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Lincoln man sets fire to apartment as deputies serve arrest warrant, authorities say
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Lincoln man sets fire to apartment as deputies serve arrest warrant, authorities say

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A Lincoln man who was wanted on two counts of first-degree sexual assault of a child was taken to a local hospital Monday after he barricaded himself in an apartment bathroom and lit a fire as investigators tried to arrest him. 

Veonta Hopper, 39, is in critical condition because of smoke inhalation, according to Lancaster County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Ben Houchin, who said officers used a Taser on Hopper as they brought him into custody at the bustling Bridgeport apartment complex near 14th and Superior streets Monday morning. 

Three law enforcement officers were also transported to area hospitals after inhaling smoke in the unit where Hopper had barricaded himself as investigators served an arrest warrant. Two had been released by Monday afternoon, the sheriff's office said.

Hopper on Tuesday was transported from the hospital to the Lancaster County Jail. The third LPD officer, remained hospitalized as of Tuesday morning, was released Tuesday and returned to work on Wednesday, Officer Erin Spilker said. 

According to the warrant filed in Lancaster County Court, Hopper sexually assaulted two children — one between the ages of 5 and 8, the other 15 years old — multiple times between January 2016 and December 2019. 

A now-10-year-old girl told police in June that Hopper raped her several times in her mother's bed. She told investigators that Hopper had threatened to kill her if she told anyone about the incidents, according to the warrant written by LPD Investigator Lynette Russell. 

A young woman, who is now 19 and not related to the 10-year-old, told investigators that Hopper raped her at his house in late 2017, when she was 15, according to the warrant. Russell wrote that the girl knew Hopper and had gone to his house after getting drunk, fearful that her mother would be upset if she went home.

The woman told police that Hopper had sex with her at least one more time after that, in a park somewhere near the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, according to Russell. 

Nine years before the 2017 incident, in 2008, the same girl had told employees at the child care she attended that Hopper had sexually assaulted her, according to the warrant.

The girl was 6 years old at the time. Lincoln police interviewed Hopper in 2008, according to the warrant, but he wasn't arrested.

Hopper apartment fire

Lincoln Fire and Rescue crews responded to the Bridgeport Apartments on Monday morning after a man who barricaded himself in an apartment to avoid arrest lit a fire in the unit's bathroom, according to the sheriff's office. 

His next contact with law enforcement on the matter appears to have come Monday, when investigators with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Fugitive Task Force knocked on the door of the apartment he was staying at.

Houchin said members of the task force arrived at the apartment at 9:14 a.m. There, the tenant — who was not Hopper — gave investigators permission to enter the unit. 

After Hopper barricaded himself in a bathroom and negations stalled, Houchin said Hopper started a fire. When investigators noticed smoke, they forced their way into the bathroom, Houchin said. 

Wagner said Tuesday it's unclear if the fire was a suicide attempt or an attempt to avoid arrest. 

Lincoln Fire and Rescue crews extinguished the fire quickly after reaching the scene. 

Houchin said law enforcement would investigate the fire as an arson and planned to obtain a search warrant for the apartment unit. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or awegley@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @andrewwegley 

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A Kansas City, Missouri, native, Andrew Wegley joined the Journal Star as breaking news reporter after graduating from Northwest Missouri State University in May 2021.

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