GOSHEN — An Elkhart man accused of causing a fire at an apartment in downtown Elkhart appeared for his initial hearing Thursday, Oct. 17, at Elkhart’s Circuit Court.
John Nellist, 32, was arrested May 13 and then later in July following investigations from the Elkhart Police Department on a fire that started on the sixth floor of Cornerstone Apartments May 8.
Nellist has been charged with dealing in methamphetamine within 1,000 feet from a housing complex, a Class A felony. He faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted.
According to the probable cause for Nellist’s arrest, police and fire units were called at about 4:30 a.m. to apartment 616 in reference to an apartment fire.
Firefighters told police that a meth lab may have caused the fire.
The police department’s meth lab team found burn marks on the floor in the living room and the kitchen. They also found a melted black funnel and a melted coffee grinder, which contained an off-white powdery substance.
Other items the team found in the apartment included Coleman fuel, bottles containing off-white sludge with black flakes and burn marks consistent with a reaction vessel for meth, drain cleaner, cold packs, stripped lithium batteries, hypodermic needles, a glass pipe with burn marks and digital scales.
Officers interviewed the tenant of the apartment, who told them Nellist was an acquaintance who had stopped by the apartment the evening before. The tenant said he left Nellist in the apartment and went to visit a friend. Nellist had arrived at the apartment carrying a suitcase.
The tenant said that when came home early morning May 8, there was smoke coming from the apartment. However, police later determined the tenant was in his apartment at the time the fire started.
According to the affidavit, Nellist told police he visited his friend the night of May 7, and that the he and the tenant were “doing drugs,” but he denied cooking meth.
During the interview, officers noticed Nellist had burns on his hands and took photos of the injuries.
Nellist told police his burn injuries were from some gasoline, but he could not provide specifics. At that point Nellist asked for an attorney and the questioning stopped. However, when he was told he was being taken to jail, Nellist uttered “I was there when the fire started.”
He told police the tenant and himself tried to put the fire out and that there was another person who was manufacturing the meth, but Nellist did not provide any names.
During his initial hearing Thursday, Nellist was appointed an attorney from the public defender’s office.
Further proceedings were scheduled for Nov. 14.