All residents in a 12-unit Janesville apartment complex will have to find other places to stay after a Sunday fire that left the building a total loss.
The afternoon blaze at 2826 Holiday Drive was reported by a resident at 3:31 p.m. Sunday. No residents were injured, although a firefighter was taken to a hospital with a hand laceration, Janesville Battalion Chief Ron Bomkamp said.
The cause of the fire is undetermined, but it started in the external rear of the building’s west side. Some residents speculated it might have come from a grill on a second-floor balcony.
Part of the roof on the west side of the two-story building caved in. Other areas were heavily charred.
Mina Wise had lived in the one-bedroom unit where the roof collapsed since November. She was at work in Madison when she learned the apartment was on fire, she said.
“As far as I know, all my stuff’s gone,” Wise said as she sat on a lawn across the street.
Red Cross responders were kind and comforting to her. She has donated to the humanitarian organization in the past, but Sunday was the first time she saw its workers in action, she said.
Wise also noted the generosity of some bystanders, who brought bags of takeout food for firefighters and displaced residents. Later, fire personnel handed out prepackaged dinners.
All residents of the building are displaced, but it was not clear Sunday evening exactly how many people had been living in the 12 units. All will receive stipends from the Red Cross to stay in hotels for a night or two, Wise said.
Red Cross Communications Officer Justin Kern wrote in an email to The Gazette that the agency was assisting roughly 20 people.
Resident Angella Gilson was not in the building when the fire started. She was unsure what happened to her cat, but she was hopeful her pet was fine because she lives on the side of the building opposite from the fire, she said.
Bomkamp said only four units had fire damage, but the rest had smoke and water damage. Firefighters were planning to let those who lived in the areas without fire damage into their apartments later Sunday night to collect their belongings.
The others will not be allowed back inside.
Bomkamp did not have a financial estimate of the damage, but he considered the building a complete loss.
Janesville police shut down Holiday Drive between Pontiac Drive and Carrousel Lane while firefighters responded. Three hours after the fire was reported, fire engines still stretched halfway around the building in a semicircle.
Thirteen departments responded to the fire, Bomkamp said.
Rock County agencies to respond included Janesville, Milton, Edgerton, Evansville, Brodhead, Orfordville, town of Beloit, city of Beloit and Clinton, Rock County Communications Center Shift Supervisor Mark Elland said.
A former Evansville youth basketball coach resigned his coaching position at Stoughton schools after Evansville police investigated allegations of lewd comments and an incident involving minors at the coach’s Evansville home.
The Stoughton School District was preparing to investigate Robinson Louis when he resigned May 16. Louis was placed on a leave of absence “immediately” after the district learned of the allegations, according to documents obtained by The Gazette.
Stoughton school officials delayed their investigation while waiting for Evansville police to finish their investigation, which was forwarded to the Rock County District Attorney’s Office but resulted in no charges being filed, according to documents.
Louis told The Gazette his attorney has advised him to not comment to the news media.
Mel Dow, Stoughton athletic director, wrote in an email May 1 he spoke to Louis and Louis “all but admitted wrong doing,” according to documents obtained by The Gazette.
Louis told Dow that rumors were spreading around Evansville about Louis and he wanted to make them stop.
During the Evansville police investigation, Louis was not allowed at Stoughton schools or school events, according to documents.
Jessa Hart Andrle, human resources director for the Stoughton School District, declined to tell The Gazette whether Louis is now allowed on school property or at school events, saying it is a confidential personnel matter.
“However, our student safety is our primary concern, and the District will continue to protect their safety,” Hart Andrle wrote in an email to The Gazette.
Members of the Stoughton High School junior varsity girls basketball team told Stoughton police in March that Louis had invited them to his Evansville home March 2 to smoke dab—a waxy substance smoked out of e-cigarettes that sometimes includes THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana.
Five members of the team went to Louis’ home, and four admitted smoking dab, according to Stoughton police reports obtained by The Gazette under the state Open Records Law.
A couple of girls reported feeling dizzy, numb and “like everything was moving in slow motion” after smoking the dab, according to the reports.
Two girls told police Louis called them the next day to describe sex dreams he’d had about them, according to reports.
The Stoughton Police Department forwarded its reports to the Evansville Police Department because the incident reportedly happened at Louis’ Evansville home, according to reports.
Louis was not interviewed by police. Louis’ attorney sent letters to the Stoughton and Evansville police chiefs April 2 saying Louis was invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and right to an attorney.
During the Evansville police investigation, investigators asked Louis’ attorney to inform him:
It is unclear whether Louis is welcome at Stoughton schools since the investigation was completed.
Louis was employed by the Stoughton School District from Nov. 5 to May 16 and was a girls junior varsity coach, Derek Spellman, the school district’s community information officer, told The Gazette in an email.
Louis coached for Evansville Youth Basketball before the 2017-18 season, when he was suspended for an unknown reason, said Damon Hinkle, president of the youth program’s board of directors.
Hinkle said he was unsure how long Louis was a coach prior to Hinkle joining the board in 2017.
Louis returned to coaching Evansville Youth Basketball for the 2018-19 season. Hinkle said Louis is no longer a coach with the program.
Evansville School District Superintendent Jerry Roth said Louis is not employed by the school district.
The youth basketball program is not affiliated with the Evansville School District, but the program uses school facilities, Roth said.
Evansville High School Principal Jason Knott said May 14 the high school launched an investigation into Louis, but he declined to answer questions about what was being investigated.
Roth said in an email to The Gazette on July 3 the Evansville School District completed its investigation and that no action was taken or decisions made as a result. The district did not create a report for the investigation, he said.
The Evansville Police Department forwarded its reports to the Rock County District Attorney’s Office, recommending Louis be charged with five counts of child enticement and five counts of contributing to the delinquency of minors, according to the reports.
The district attorney’s office took no action.
Beth Ann Burkheimer, lead legal support specialist for the district attorney’s office, wrote in an April 29 email to Evansville Police Chief Scott McElroy that the charges are not applicable because there is “no usable evidence” showing the dab the girls said they smoked at Louis’ home contained THC. The dab could have contained cannabidiol, which is legal.
There is no way to prove Louis gave the girls a controlled substance without testing the substance, and therefore there is no way to prove a delinquent act occurred, according to the email.
The district attorney’s office did not address the recommended charges of child enticement in its correspondence with Evansville police.
Two girls on the team reported Louis called them individually March 3 and described in detail sexual dreams he had about them, according to Stoughton police reports.
In their report, Stoughton police referenced screenshots of call logs from the girls’ phones showing Louis called one of them at 10:12 a.m. Sunday, March 3, and the call lasted 34 minutes.
Another screenshot shows Louis called the second girl at 7:20 p.m. Sunday, March 3, and the call lasted 11 minutes, according to the report.
Reports detail a team dinner at Noodles & Company in Fitchburg the same day the girls said they went to Louis’ house and smoked dab, according to reports.
A girl on the team jokingly imitated a sexual act with a straw in her mouth during the dinner, according to reports.
The next day, according to text messages included in police reports, Louis texted the girl, referencing the straw joke, saying:
“No just can’t believe you can do that.”
When the girl asked why, Louis responded saying:
“Makes me want to test that lol ... s—- need to stop.”
He later said:
“Talk to me later when your 18 lol good night and delete all the text about this.”
The report also included text messages from March 3 to girls on the team saying:
“Just wanted to clear things up for everyone ... and please understand I will not repeat this or I will get super mad!
“For the girls that went home thank you for hanging out! For the girls that came over, thanks for playing just dance and hanging out and crying about boyfriends! That being said that is all that happened ... talk of other stuff needs to stop if you care about me!
“All it takes is the wrong person to hear you and life for me is over! So please understand I love you guys and I will always look out for your girls.”
Some people interviewed told police they did not see or experience anything inappropriate with Louis during the season, according to reports.
Some girls said Louis made jokes and then told the girls not to repeat those jokes to parents because they might take them “the wrong way,” according to reports.
Reports also show Louis told girls to be careful around police because some officers cannot be trusted and that he had many guns at home, according to reports.
The March investigation was the second time Evansville police investigated Louis for allegations of inappropriate conduct with minors.
In 2005, an underage girl accused Louis, who was 28 at the time, of groping her chest and, on a different occasion, performing a sex act on her and masturbating in front of her, according to Evansville police reports from 2005.
The girl told police Louis showed her a gun and pointed it toward her prior to performing a sex act on her in his home, according to the reports.
Those interviewed by Evansville police said during the summer of 2005 a group of kids would hang out at Louis’ apartment. Louis got to know them and offered to be a confidant to the kids.
According to reports, Louis told the kids he had a degree in psychology so they should trust him and talk to him about their problems. Reports show Louis has a degree in human resources, not psychology.
Louis told police the allegations were not true. He said a group of kids did hang out at his house that summer, including the girl who made the accusations, according to reports.
Louis said he thought the girl was angry with him because Louis told her she could no longer hang out at his house because she had a bad attitude. Louis told police the girl would regularly lose her temper and would wear revealing clothing, according to police reports.
Evansville police in 2005 recommended to the Rock County District Attorney’s Office that Louis be charged with second-degree sexual assault of a child, causing child to view sexual activity and use of a dangerous weapon. No charges were filed.
The district attorney’s office in 2005 did not file charges because “upon review of all statements, unable to meet burden of proof,” the office manager told The Gazette, citing office records.
William Joseph Byrne
Nancy Lee Gallun
LeRoy E. Punzel