Cops commended for actions in fires

Trevor Holmes and Scott Johnson

ELKHART — An Elkhart police officer risked his own health when he entered a burning house looking for an entrapped resident in November.

For that, he deserves commendation, Police Chief Chris Snyder told the Police Merit Commission on Monday.

Cpl. Trevor Holmes was called to 935 McDonald St. about 7:22 p.m. Nov. 2. Two minutes later, he was at the burning house. He was told a man was trapped in the back bedroom.

But the Fire Department was not yet at the house, so Holmes decided to enter the house on his own, without protective gear, to find the man. Once inside, he began searching and yelling out, but he received no answer.

Once he got to the kitchen, the heat was too much, so he left the house to find a different entry point. When he got outside, firefighters had arrived and they took over the search.

It was only later that he learned nobody was inside and that a language barrier had caused the miscommunication.

According to Capt. Bryan Moore, that makes no difference to the heroic actions of Holmes.

“Cpl. Holmes made entry into a burning house because he believed that there was a life in danger. He is to be recognized and applauded for the disregard of his own personal safety for that of another,” Moore wrote in a commendation letter to Holmes.

Snyder agreed.

“I think this just shows how our officers continue to go above and beyond, not only in doing the job that they’re hired to do, but to do other things for the community,” he said.

Commissioner Brad Billings said he was impressed with how fast Holmes got to the burning house. Snyder said response times like that are possible because modern technology allows officers to be in their cars, moving around the city, rather than sitting at the police station.

Grocery store fire 

Also commended, for his investigation of the Aug. 9 fire at Cueremaro Supermarket on Lusher Street, was Detective Scott Johnson. 

Surveillance footage from that fire showed a man moving cardboard to the back of the store and setting it ablaze. The fire then spread to the inside of the store and has caused the supermarket to be closed for months. The family that owns the store said they knew the man and that he had threatened to set the store on fire earlier that day.

When the man was not immediately arrested, some community members expressed frustration with the police, speculating that the case was not being taken seriously because the victims were Hispanic.

But in the commendation letter to Johnson, the Elkhart police administration explains that, even though Johnson was quickly looking for the suspect, the man was difficult to locate because he was homeless.

“Detective Johnson conducted an extensive search, which included the use of additional officers, detectives and the homeless liaison officer,” the letter said.

Then, on Aug. 22, police were told that the suspect, Bruce Collins, was in the area of Prairie Street and Lusher Avenue. Police found him and took him to the police station. Johnson was on his day off from work but volunteered to come in to interview Collins once he heard what had happened. As a result, Johnson was able to establish probable cause, and Collins was arrested and given a $100,000 bond. The bond was set at a high level because Collins was deemed a habitual criminal offender.

“We commend Detective Johnson on a job well done. His commitment to the investigation and willingness to sacrifice his personal time for the benefit of the community we serve resulted in a victim getting justice for a crime that probably could not have been charged if not for Detective Johnson’s dedication,” the commendation letter said.

A trial for Collins is scheduled for Feb. 25.

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter at @ReadRasmus

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