A pro football player who leapt from his burning third-floor apartment in Liberty Lake Thursday said he started the blaze with a marijuana blunt because God told him to, authorities say.
Kevin Marcus Ellison, 25, a starting linebacker/defensive back for the Spokane Shock arena football team, initially told firefighters that he’d been smoking in bed, but evidence collected at the scene didn’t match that explanation, said Spokane Valley Fire Marshal Kevin Miller. Ellison was arrested during a follow-up interview at Deaconess Medical Center where he was being treated for smoke inhalation.
“We were looking for smoking materials,” Miller said. “We ruled out any accidental cause.”
No other injuries were reported in the blaze, which Miller said was spotted about 5:30 a.m. by firefighters headed to an unrelated emergency call. The fire crew radioed for reinforcement and diverted to the massive Big Trout Lodge apartment complex, where they found flames coming from the third-story unit. Liberty Lake police officers helped evacuate the complex.
According to court documents, Ellison was at the hospital when he told Spokane Valley Deputy Fire Marshal Clifton Mehaffey that he’d set the fire with a cigar “because ‘God’ had told him to set the bed on fire.” Mehaffey said Ellison stopped talking to him after he called a family member and was advised to get a lawyer.
Later Thursday, a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives contacted Shock general manager Ryan Rigmaiden, who said Ellison told him he started the fire with a marijuana blunt at the advice of God, according to court documents.
The agent then contacted Ellison, who declined to answer questions about the fire but said “that he just wanted to get out of it and for it all to go away,” according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.
Ellison faces a federal arson charge, which Miller said is standard when an arson fire is in a large apartment complex.
Firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze before flames could spread, but two neighboring units sustained smoke damage, authorities said. Damage is estimated at $50,000, according to court documents.
Ellison’s roommate, Shock teammate Chris Tucker, was awakened by smoke detectors and tried to check on Ellison in the bedroom before fleeing.
He told investigators he knocked on Ellison’s door and Ellison said “I’m good” but did not open the door. Tucker left the apartment and notified other tenants.
“He pounded on the door and it was too hot,” Miller said, adding that Tucker later found Ellison outside.
Shock majority owner Brady Nelson said the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Ellison was suspended by the league Thursday following the arrest. “I think the investigation needs to play out, but if he truly did this he’s never coming back,” Nelson said.
Ellison moved into the starting lineup last month when Terence Moore went on injured reserve with a knee injury. Ellison played in the defensive secondary in last week’s game against Kansas City. Moore has recovered from his injury and will return to the starting lineup this week.
“He’s been a model player,” Nelson said of Ellison, noting he’d been scheduled to participate in a television interview later Thursday morning.
Ellison, who played at USC, was drafted in the sixth round by the San Diego Chargers in 2009 and started nine games at safety that season. He was released by the team following a May 2010 arrest in San Diego on a controlled-substance charge after police reportedly found 100 Vicodin tablets in his vehicle without a prescription.
The charges were later dropped. Ellison joined the Seattle Seahawks but was released shortly before the 2010 season opener.
U.S. Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno ordered Ellison to remain in federal custody Thursday. A hearing to determine whether he should be allowed to leave jail on bail to await trial is scheduled for June 19.