Verbal Smartphone Question Sparks Arson Investigation

NEBRASKA CITY – An Otoe County judge issued a search warrant Thursday for a Nebraska City residence as part of an investigation into a warehouse fire on July 18.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office requested the warrant after Nebraska City Police Sgt. Dana Schebaum said she received a tip that a building was going to be burned about four hours prior to the fire.

Firefighters were called at 5:19 a.m. to 6160 Steinhart Park Rd.  after fire in a shed  had spread to the 11,000-square-foot commercial building. The building, which is owned by Johnson Rentals, is listed by as for sale at a price of $550,000.


Firefighters extinguished the fire, but not before there was damage to the upper portions of the building and a rented office space.

A fire marshal investigator’s affidavit says a Nebraska City man was overheard speaking search inquiries into a smart phone. The the man, who has no apparent connection to the property, asked the phone “how to burn down a building without anyone noticing.”

Authorities did not comment Monday on the details of how police responded to the tip at 1:15 a.m. The building in Nebraska City’s industrial area, is located outside the patrol jurisdiction of Nebraska City police.

Authorities seized four smart phones, three tablets and an iPad from the residence on Thursday.

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