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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Police call fire at former Goshen Inn suspicious

Police are investigating a fire that caused serious damage to an Inn on the south side of Goshen.
Sharon Hernandez and Nicholas Wesman
Posted on Aug. 13, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Aug. 13, 2013 at 4:03 p.m.

GOSHEN — The Goshen fire and police departments are investigating a fire that caused extensive damage to an abandoned hotel as arson.

The fire department was dispatched at about 8:02 p.m. Monday, Aug. 12, to 1375 Lincolnway E., to reports of a structure fire.

Firefighters battled the blaze in the middle of a thunderstorm that triggered tornado sirens in Goshen.

Twenty firefighters labored for more then 45 minutes to bring the fire under control. The scene was cleared around midnight, Assistant Fire Chief Jim Ramer said.

A restaurant located in the east side of the building known as Crackers Lounge and The Blue Room suffered extensive damage, but the fire did not go through the roof, said Chief Inspector Mike Happer Monday night.

Ramer said the fire at the former Goshen Inn was intentionally set. He said the origin of the fire was determined, but further details concerning the case cannot be released to the public because of the ongoing investigation. Ramer said he estimated the damage to the structure to be roughly $150,000.

The fire and police departments are asking for the public’s help in identifying the person who set the fire at the abandoned inn.

“Someone knows who set it, and we’re offering a reward for that,” he said.

The fire department is offering a $5,000 reward for anyone with information that may lead to the arrest of a suspect, according to a press release. The fire department’s investigators may be contacted at 574-875-4315. Anyone with information can also call the Goshen Police Department at 574-533-8661 or the Arson Hot Line at 800-382-4628.

The hotel and restaurant have not been used for a number of years. The building has been at the center of a lot of activity in recent years, however.

In October 2011, then-owner Kiran Patel was found murdered in the hotel which he was working to renovate.

A man he had hired to help him, John Hawley, was convicted for killing Patel and sentenced to 65 years in prison on February 2012.

Though the Inn has been officially vacant since Patel’s murder, it hasn’t stopped some from breaking into the building.

In February 2013, the building was to be sold at a property auction as part of Elkhart County’s online certificate sale.

At the time, Police Chief Wade Branson characterized the property as a nuisance, saying “As with most vacant, unsecured buildings, it is not long before opportunistic individuals take advantage of the empty property.”

Branson noted there had been 18 calls to the property in 2011 and 30 in 2012, 20 of which were related to criminal activity.

So far this year, police had responded to four calls for service in the property because of a crime.

The property had become a part of the routine for officers, who would stop at the property to check for open or broken doors and advise trespassers to leave, Branson said.

“These criminal activities and calls for investigation of other suspicious behavior at the property then result in consuming police patrol time, investigator hours, and evidentiary resources,” he said in a February meeting.

The property, however, was left off the auction list at the request of Mayor Allan Kauffman who wanted to prevent the building from being purchased by “bottom feeders” who would open something that the city would not like to see in the community.

The city took over ownership of the property after it was left off the auction list and the city has been working on what to do with it ever since.

The property was discussed as a possible location for the Goshen Community Center when organizers of that effort restarted their search for a site to house the project.

The Community Center project fell through, however, and the building still sits empty.

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