Trial set for second FOP arson suspectPublished 5:23pm Tuesday, May 1, 2012
A South Bend man accused of causing a fire that destroyed the Niles Fraternal Order of Police lodge in March is headed for trial.
Berrien County District Court Judge Dennis Wiley determined during Tuesday’s pre-exam hearing there was enough evidence to bind over 25-year-old Gary Lee Nellans II, on six counts, including felony arson of real property.
Nellans pleaded not guilty and is being held on $250,000 bond. Nellans’ co-defendant, Kyle Allen Kelley, 19, of Niles, was bound over and pleaded not guilty Friday.
In testimony Tuesday, Niles Police Detective Richard Krueger said the defendants admitted to setting fire to a stolen car and pushing it down a hill on F.O.P Drive towards the Niles FOP lodge. The car came to a rest near the lodge, catching the lodge on fire around 5 a.m. March 14.
There is some question as to which defendant set the vehicle on fire and which defendant sent the car on its way down the hill. Both defendants claimed in interviews with police the other did both actions.
Krueger said the defendants admitted charcoal lighter fluid was used to start the vehicle fire.
Nellans’ attorney, Peter Johnson, said his client never intended to set the FOP lodge on fire.
Krueger revealed details of the events leading to the FOP fire. In an interview with police, Nellans said he and Kelley were drinking heavily all day at a party March 13. Both left the party late that night or early March 14 intent on stealing things from nearby vehicles.
They found a 2000 Saturn unlocked with the keys in it in the 800 block of Burns Street in Niles. Both entered the vehicle, and, with Nellans driving, they lost control and wrecked the car into a guardrail on Burns Street.
They left the scene and later found another vehicle — a 2005 Chevy Impala — unlocked and with the keys in it in the 300 block of Hill Street. They drove the car for a period of time before parking it at Briar Crest apartments on Platt Street, a couple blocks away from the FOP lodge.
At that time, Nellans said he and Kelly decided to burn the Impala to get rid of the evidence. The car was parked at the top of the hill on F.O.P. Drive and set on fire.
Krueger said the license plate found near the car at the scene of the FOP fire matched the 2005 Chevy Impala stolen from the 300 block of Hill Street.
Krueger said a tip by a confidential informant led to the arrest of Kelley April 19 and the arrest of Nellans April 20.
Judge Wiley set a case conference for Nellans at 8:30 a.m. May 25. His trial is scheduled to begin June 26.
Tags: Niles FOP Lodge