The fate of a Knox man accused of setting his businesses on fire will soon be in the hands of a jury. The defense in James Campbell’s arson trial rested at 4:16 p.m. Tuesday after calling three witnesses. The first, a former ATF agent turned fire investigation consultant, questioned whether the fire that destroyed Campbell’s Tire Barn, Starke County Recycling and C&C Salvage on U.S. 35 south of Toto Road last March was deliberately set. Mike Vergon has operated a private fire investigation practice in Indianapolis for the past two-and-a-half years. He visited the burned out business on June 23 and Oct. 2 of last year. Vergon testified burn patterns don’t help with origin and cause determinations with damage as extensive as what he saw and said it’s his opinion the cause cannot be determined without good witness corroboration.
That testimony is contrary to that of two investigators who previously testified for the state. Insurance investigator Larry Cooper and Fred Sumpter from the Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office both stated they thought the fire started in two separate areas based on burn patterns and other evidence and that it was deliberately set.
Electrical engineer Benjamin Mills also testified for the defense. He works in the Chicago office of a forensic engineering consulting firm that is hired to determine what if any electrical malfunction is to blame when a fire starts. Mills visited the business on Oct. 2 with Vergon. He testified an extension cord attached to a battery charger in the tire barn area of the business was plugged in when the fire started. He said a battery charger was connected to it and attached to the battery on a Mercedes-Benz SUV that was inside the shop. Mills said neither the battery charger nor the cord can be ruled out as ignition sources. He also noted other electrical components like lights and transformers sustained too much damage to draw any definitive conclusions as to whether they were factors in the fire.
The attorneys will offer closing arguments when the proceedings resume this morning. The court is in recess until 9 a.m.