Zarins Charged May 4, 2023
An Athens man is charged after a structure fire in Taylor County that left one person dead.
Jennifer Johnson, who was 51, died after being burned over 85-percent of her body in the January 2023 fire. The blaze broke out in a homemade structure built from an old camper frame.
A criminal complaint shows 50-year-old Matthew Zarins is charged with homicide by negligent handling of a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit manufacturing of methamphetamine, possession of materials for manufacturing methamphetamine, maintaining a drug trafficking place, and possession of waste from methamphetamine manufacturing -1st offense.
According to the criminal complaint, on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, around 12:11 a.m., the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a structure fire at N44 Clark Drive in the Town of Maplehurst, north of Withee, in Taylor County..
The criminal complaint says Zarins reported his house was on fire. Zarins reported his wife was outside with him, but she had burn injuries.
Zarins told detectives a can of fuel slipped out of his hands and spilled when he was trying to build a fire in the woodstove, according to the criminal complaint. But a woman told detectives Zarins said he and Johnson were making meth when he poured something into the mix that caused it to explode.
Authorities learned there was no water and no electricity in Zarins’ house. The house was heated by burning wood. The home was burned down, more or less to the frame. The home consisted of a single-story camper-style/mobile home.
The criminal complaint says Zarins provided consent to search the camper. Authorities found “several items laying outside and inside the burned structure consisting of but not limited to the following: a glass mason jar lid with a plastic hose coming out of the top, a plastic bottle with a plastic hose coming out of the top, cans of Coleman fuel, multiple glass beakers, a glass beaker with what appeared to be tin foil wrapped around the top, a glass measuring cup glass mason jars, assorted glassware and vials, a glass smoking device with a hose wrapped around it consistent with smoking methamphetamine.” A fire chief advised he suspected there was drug activity at the structure since he saw glass tubes, beakers, and hoses in the charred remains of the structure.
The criminal complaint says in an interview Zarins denied knowing anything or being involved in the manufacturing of methamphetamine. In an interview with an informant, she stated Zanis wanted to make meth to "make a lot of money."
Zarins admitted to smoking methamphetamine five days prior to when he was asked by authorities.