Fortville man charged with arson after officials say he burned home

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Jeffrey Charles Stella, 63, Fortville

HANCOCK COUNTY — A Fortville man who officials with law enforcement say they are familiar with has been accused of setting a home on fire in the 300 block of Virginia Street after the woman who lived there allowed him inside to gather some belongings.

Jeffrey Charles Stella, 63, 300 block of Virginia Street, has been charged with a Level 4 felony count of arson and a Class A Misdemeanor count of invasion of privacy — violation of an order from an incident on March 26.

Stella had his initial appearance in Hancock County Superior Court 1 Wednesday morning and the court set a $15,000 cash bond. Court records show he is due back in court Wednesday, April 17.

According to a probable cause affidavit, officials from the Fortville Police Department were called around 9:30 p.m. March 26 to the 300 block of Virginia Street to assist fire officials with a residential fire. The homeowner of the house arrived shortly after police and officials asked her if anyone was in the house, and she said, “he’s (Stella) the one that set my house on fire.”

The report noted the woman told officials Stella might still be inside the house which was burning. Officials stated in the report the woman had an active protective order against Stella. The woman told officials Stella had access to her house because she had left a door open for him so he could gather some of his belongings. The woman added, she was being nice because Stella was currently detoxing and she was hoping with her not being at the home they could avoid a confrontation.

According to the affidavit, the woman said Stella appeared to be “agitated” when the two had exchanged text messages earlier in the day. Part of one of the messages Stella sent the woman said, “I will turn you life into a living hell,” the woman told officials. One of the neighbor’s told officials, the report stated, that they had seen the woman’s ex, Stella leaving the home around 9 p.m.

The affidavit stated, on multiple occasions while on scene and once the fire was put out, fire officials brought officers into the house and showed them various indicators of probable cause to believe the fire was started intentionally. Fire officials stated there were three points of origin where the fire started and showed law enforcement each. Fire officials then showed law enforcement an empty motor oil container, and evidence of it being poured on the floorboards in the living room and kitchen.

The affidavit stated, fire officials then showed law enforcement what they believed to be a towel or rag that was near one of the points of origin. It wrapped around the wall to the entry of one of the rooms, causing officials to believe it was put there to possibly have the fire carry into the room.

Video footage from across the street officials said in the report, helped confirm Stella was at the house and had opened then closed the garage. Shortly after, officials stated, “you can see where a fire begins near one of the points of origin that the fire officials had pointed out.”

Police put out an alert for Stella and later that morning, around 3:30 a.m., officials from Delaware County told Hancock County officials they had Stella in custody in Muncie. Officials there told local police that Stella, prior to hearing his rights, stated he had a dream he put a house on fire and then gave officials the exact address of the house fire.

Officials also noted in the report, after being read his rights, Stella continued to talk saying he used a lighter to start the fire. Officials in Delaware County said Stella was intoxicated, and they had given him a breath test to which he blew a .179 (legal limit 0.08%) and there was also an open container found in his vehicle, the report stated.

Once in the custody of Fortville Police, the report said, Stella asked an officer if he was successful in burning the woman’s house down. The officer wrote, “I told him he completely destroyed the house to which he replied ‘good.’”