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Delin challenging arson finding, Brockmueller not yet convinced

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The Toledo warehouse owned by Nicholas Delin hours after it burned down Aug. 25, 2011. Five months later, investigators said they believe it had been arson, but Delin has formally challenged those findings through an investigation of his own.

Local business owner Nicholas Delin has formally challenged a finding of arson as the reason his warehouse burned down in Toledo more than two years ago on the basis of a lack of tangible evidence.

Delin has told Town Crier an investigation of his own into the Aug. 25, 2011, fire at 117 Ramsey Way has shown the real cause had been accidental and the result of an electrical failure, and he has petitioned both his insurance carrier, Lloyd’s of London, and the Toledo Police Department to change their findings.

A determination of arson had originally been delivered in January, 2012, by CASE Forensics, a Seattle-based private investigation firm hired by Lloyd’s of London in the absence of Toledo’s regular fire investigator, Sam Patrick, who was attending police academy training at the time.

According to documents provided by Delin’s attorney, Amos Hunter, of Spokane, CASE Forensics theorized, based on the examination of debris found at the scene, the fire had been caused when someone filled the structure with propane gas then lit the fumes with an open flame.

As a result of the arson finding, Lloyd’s of London denied Delin’s claim against the lost property, which had been insured for up to $100,000, according to court documents. And, while no suspects have been identified by investigators, Delin has argued his reputation and that of his family’s has none-the-less suffered through rumors by those who insist Delin attempted to burn down his own warehouse.

In an effort to seek restitution and to clear his name, Delin hired John Scrivner, of Spokane Valley-based J. Scrivner Investigations, Inc., who re-examined the site of the fire Jan. 18, 2013, as well as related photographs, and said he determined the claims of a propane explosion were both implausible and unsupported by the facts.

In a May 3, 2013, statement prepared by Hunter’s office, Scrivner’s stated the burden of proof to establish arson, according to guidelines established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), had not been met in this case due to the significant loss of material evidence during the fire, as well as evidence lost or destroyed during the initial investigation.

"My opinion is that…the cause was an accidental electrical fire of the outlet or outlets in which the electrical cords were plugged into the west wall," he said, going on to argue, "It would be certain death for anyone to have an open flame near propane vapors, to the point of making this hypothesis highly unlikely."

When the finding of arson was first challenged in a lawsuit filed by Delin on Dec. 3, 2012, Lloyd’s of London was initially dismissive and even went so far as to accuse Delin directly of being the arsonist.

"The fire was caused by Mr. Delin and/or someone at Mr. Delin’s direction," stated Lloyd’s of London attorney Mark Scheer, of Seattle, in a Dec. 28, 2012, court filing, which also accused Delin of attempting to conceal two previous fire claims from 2008 and 2010 on his application for insurance.

Delin argued the errors were clerical and had not been intentional, stating information had been carried over from previous insurance applications, and added no evidence from either CASE Forensics or subsequent investigations have identified any suspects in the matter, much less himself.

Both parties agreed to settle out of court for an undisclosed amount and the suit was dismissed July 17, 2013. Delin also sued Farmer’s Insurance on Dec. 14, 2012, for the loss of personal property during the fire, and the case was similarly settled then dismissed on Aug. 2, 2013.

After the suits were thrown out, Hunter then presented his evidence in support of Delin’s case to Toledo PD as "information to become part of the official record of the City of Toledo," along with a statement informing Police Chief John Brockmueller the cause of the fire had been "determined to be accidental under NFPA 921."

Presented for the record were both Scrivner’s statements and an excerpt from an April 18, 2013, deposition of CASE Forensics Senior Fire Investigator Steven Gunsolley, who had conducted the investigation into Delin’s claim.

In the excerpt, Gunsolley was asked how evidence gathered since his original investigation would weigh on his theory of a propane explosion, to which he responded he had not been able to examine said evidence and could not rule on it’s potential affect on the investigation.

Hunter then asked Gunsolley, if unexamined evidence exists and such evidence has the potential to change the outcome of the investigation, shouldn’t the cause of the fire be classified "undetermined?"

Gunsolley replied, "I guess I’d have to agree with you just for the fact that I do need that material," according to the excerpt.

Brockmueller has since told Town Crier his department upholds the findings of Gunsolley, despite the evidence offered by Hunter, but again said Toledo has been presented with no evidence suitable for an arrest of a suspect in the matter.

Brockmueller said he would like to make an arrest and close the case, as with all his cases, but stated the investigation into the fire remains open and may never result in an arrest unless clearer evidence comes forward, adding details of the case cannot be made public by his department until after the case is closed.

He added it is his department’s own discretion to change the cause of a fire during an open investigation, and the determination of a civil court of private investigator does not compel them to do so.

Since the warehouse fire, Delin began a business last year in Winlock (Never the Same, at 503 First St.) selling confections and a number of other items, and has said he plans soon to open a pizza restaurant at the location.

Firefighters douse the flames of the warehouse fire shortly after it started at around 1 a.m. Photo by Greg Morosoff.

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