Wisconsin man drove to Chicago to burn down a South Side church, prosecutors say

Steven Pena (Chicago Police Department)

CHICAGO — A Wisconsin man has been detained as a public safety threat after prosecutors accused him of driving to Chicago to set a South Side church on fire.

Steven Pena, 36, of Madison, admitted that he drove to Triumphant Church of God, 356 East 61st, specifically to set it on fire, officials said in court filings.

The Chicago Fire Department responded to the church twice during the overnight hours of March 14. Fire personnel informed officers who responded to the first call that the incident was not arson. That changed when they were called back to the scene a short time later to deal with a second fire.

CPD officers said they found Pena urinating next to his vehicle in an alley next to the church and asked him why he was out so late.

Pena allegedly replied something to the effect of, “I was trying to burn down that church.”

Cops also determined that the 911 call reporting the fire came from Pena’s phone number, according to his arrest report, and officers noted a “strong odor of gasoline” as they drove him to the police station.

Prosecutors said the church door was “damaged beyond repair.”

Judge Charles Beach granted the state’s detention petition, pointing to the fact that Pena is accused of driving all the way to Chicago to set that particular church on fire. Pena allegedly stopped along the way to pick up a gas can and a lighter.

Beach said Pena’s mental health issues also made him too dangerous to release at this time.

The exact motive for Pena’s alleged behavior is unclear. Beach’s detention order stated Pena believed he was “correcting a wrong” by burning the church.

Pena is charged with two counts of arson.

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