Internet entrepreneur dies in Akron house fire

Published: January 14, 2010 – 08:02 AM | Updated: June 18, 2011 – 08:01 AM

Updated at 2:59 p.m.

An Internet entrepreneur who made headlines in 2003 when he bought a million-dollar mansion two years after graduating from high school died in an Akron house fire early Thursday morning.

Ryan D. Johnson, 26, whose financial, medical and domestic troubles had been documented in media reports, was in a second-floor bathroom when the fire started in a house in the 1100 block of West Market Street.

Two other occupants in the home when the fire started made it out safely, Capt. Al Bragg of the Akron Fire Department said.

Firefighters were called to the house about 2:40 a.m., with reports that people were trapped inside, he said.

At the scene, they found heavy smoke and flames coming from the second story, he said.

‘‘When we arrived, we found one person was still inside the house, and firefighters made an aggressive interior attack and found him in a bathroom adjacent to a bedroom,’’ Bragg said.

Firefighters reported the fire under control at 3:06 a.m.

Johnson was transported to Akron General Medical Center, where he later died, Bragg said.

When reached at her Cuyahoga Falls home, Johnson’s mother, Claudia Johnson, did not want to discuss her son’s death.

Johnson was a 20-year-old graduate of Cuyahoga Falls High School with a reputation as a computer wizard when he paid $933,000 for a Granger Road home in bath Township that was listed at $1.1 million.

Two years after the purchase, police reports indicated Johnson had done $100,000 damage to the 4,200-square-foot house.

According to court documents, police responded to the address numerous times. In the spring of 2004, police reported he smashed a 2-month-old Volkswagen Touareg through the security gate of his house, plowed the car into a tree then beat it with golf clubs and boulders.

They also found a Mercedes SL500 parked in Yellow Creek under a bridge next to the house.

The next day, Johnson drove the Touareg into the creek because, ‘‘It’s my birthday,’’ he told police. The vehicles were worth more than $100,000, police said.

He was admitted to St. Thomas Hospital on physician’s orders following the incident, a township official said at the time.

Johnson, who was still smashing the SUV when police arrived, said he did it in an effort to prove to his ex-girlfriend that money meant nothing to him.

In April 2004, police found him breaking windows and beating his living room walls with a sledge hammer.

In May 2005, Johnson was declared incompetent to stand trial on a charge of contempt of court. In June, a judge ordered him to receive 60 days of inpatient care for mental illness.


A 2005 motion for foreclosure against the Granger Road property stated Johnson owed more than $200,000 in delinquent mortgage payments, interest and back taxes.

In 2007, the house, built in 1991, sold at a sheriff’s sale for $380,000, according to court records.

Johnson, who said he ‘‘always worked with computers’’ in a news article about the purchase of the house, refused to divulge his annual income. He said he made money designing Web sites and Internet advertising.

Eric Ortopan, 27, of Bath Township, said he and Johnson had been friends ‘‘since we were little kids.’’

‘‘I consider him a brother,’’ he said.

Ortopan said that while Johnson was making his fortune, he offered his friends a home at the Granger Road mansion while they struggled through college.

‘‘He took what he had and gave it to everybody. He had a huge heart. He always was trying to make people feel good all the time,’’ he said.

Through tears, Cythia Oakes, 27, of Akron, said Thursday that she had known Johnson for about four years.

‘‘He was eccentric and hilariously funny. He was always different, but he liked to do anything,’’ she said.

Authorities determined that Thursday’s fire started in a bedroom, Bragg said, but the cause is still under investigation.

There were no smoke alarms in the house, according to the fire department.

The home, appraised at about $246,000 by Summit County, suffered about $60,000 in damage to the structure and about $20,000 to the contents, fire reports estimate.

The Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office said Johnson was living in the West Market Street home. The cause of death is unknown pending an autopsy, said Gary Guenther, investigator for the office.

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