Punta Gorda woman charged with arson in duplex fire

PUNTA GORDA -- A woman was charged with arson in a suicide attempt that investigators say set her duplex on fire around April 5.

Vega Merrill Antonucci, 53, of 220 W. Henry St., Punta Gorda, was charged with first-degree arson of a dwelling with people present Thursday afternoon shortly after she was released from the custody of a local crisis stabilization unit, according to a Charlotte County sheriff's report.

Around 8:30 a.m. April 5, Antonucci was found outside the duplex by authorities, who noticed her eyebrows and lashes had been singed by flames.

She said that she was the only one present when the fire started and that the fire began when she had accidentally spilled an oil lamp and was carelessly smoking in the home. She later changed her story, saying she accidentally lit her blanket on fire while smoking.

Antonucci then agreed to be interviewed by Detective Adam Rivero of the State Fire Marshal's Office as part of the investigation.

She allegedly told him that the fire started when she poured lamp oil on a blanket with the intention of wrapping herself in it and lighting it on fire in a suicide attempt. After lighting it, she changed her mind and fled the building, leaving the blanket to burn. She did not call the fire department.

The resident of the other half of the duplex was not hurt in the fire, but $30,000 in damage was reported to the building.

An investigation of the scene was consistent with Antonucci's interview, the report states. She gave a sworn statement of the suicide attempt to the Punta Gorda Police Department. After the interview, she was taken into custody under the Baker Act, deeming her a possible threat to herself or others, and taken to the crisis stabilization unit.

When Antonucci was released, she was charged and taken to the Charlotte County Jail, where she remained Friday evening on $10,000 bond.