Ex-con accused of setting fire to Catholic church near Mount Helix to stand trial

Eugene Volk faces 43 years to life if convicted

EL CAJON, Calif. - An ex-con accused of setting fires that caused more than $200,000 in damage to a Catholic church near Mount Helix must stand trial on arson and vandalism charges, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Eugene William Volk was also bound over for trial on hate crime allegations, said Deputy District Attorney Andrew Aguilar.

Volk, who prosecutors said has prior "strike" convictions from 1991 vehicular manslaughter and 1988 residential burglary cases, faces 40 years to life in prison if convicted, according to the prosecutor.

Volk, 45, was arrested Oct. 10 as he walked near fire-damaged Santa Sophia Church on San Juan Street in Spring Valley, sheriff's arson Detective Anthony Portillo said.

The fire was reported Oct. 8 about 8 p.m. just north of Campo Road and state Route 94. It took firefighters about 10 minutes to put out the non-injury blaze, which caused extensive damage to the church interior.

Volk allegedly set three separate fires inside the church.

According to testimony Wednesday at the defendant's preliminary hearing, a man who had hired Volk to do some work, and subsequently let him go, said Volk had confronted him before the arson incident and had made disparaging remarks about Catholics.

After his arrest, Volk also made derogatory comments to investigators about the Catholic Church, Aguilar said.

Judge Evan Kirvin found that enough evidence was presented during the hearing to order Volk to stand trial May 5. A readiness conference was set for March 5 in El Cajon.

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