Six Police Cruisers Torched in St. Croix

May 15, 2013
The rear glass of the six damaged vehicles had been broken out and some sort of accelerant used to ensure intense heat and rapid destruction.

May 14--ST. CROIX -- As V.I. Police Officers throughout the territory were preparing to delve into a week of activities to celebrate National Police Week, vandals torched six new police units Monday morning as they sat waiting to be turned over to officers and used to patrol the island.

According to the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency's emergency log, dispatchers received a call at 1:47 a.m. Monday reporting an explosion in the area of Metro Motors Car Dealership in Golden Rock and a second call minutes later that confirmed that there was a fire at that location.

Fire Marshal Clifford Joseph said firefighters from the Richmond fire station responded with several vehicles, including a tanker truck, and used almost 600 gallons of water to extinguish the blazes that had lit up the dark early morning sky.

He said six vehicles had been burned, but an attempt at a seventh vehicle failed.

"When we got there, you could smell the strong odor of gasoline in the area," he said. "That, and the manner in which the cars were burnt and how the fire spread, were all clear indications that it was arson."

Joseph said the fire was aggressive, but the firefighters got the fires under control and extinguished in less than 30 minutes.

"There was just a bit of smoldering for a while after, but the fires were out," he said.

He said the fires were lit in a manner that showed firefighters and police that the individuals who lit the fire were hoping that the blaze would spread from one vehicle to the next, but that did not happen.

"It's certainly unfortunate that this occurred, but I still see it as fortunate that more vehicles were not damaged and those that were damaged can still be salvaged," Joseph said. "The fire did not go through and through the interior, so they can be repaired."

The northwestern lot of the dealership was abuzz in the early morning as police detectives and forensic officers weaved through the rows of the new Ford 4-wheel drive Police Interceptors, which were lined up in a partial grid pattern with four rows of seven vehicles, starting at the northern perimeter fencing of the property.

Police believe the arsonists began setting fire to the center row of vehicles and hoped that the fire would spread to the left and right, igniting additional vehicles.

The rear glass of the six damaged vehicles had been broken out and some sort of accelerant used to ensure intense heat and rapid destruction, according to investigators.

Authorities also believe the gas tanks were pried open and stuffed with cloth, which was lit on fire.

The smell of burned materials from inside and outside the vehicles was pungent in the air.

The plastic wheel-well moldings hung melted like ribbon onto scorched tires, fibers from the interior were burned into bits of ashes and the bright blue paint finish and yellow police decals were burned off of the cars in some areas, leaving the underlying metal frame exposed.

The six cars were damaged severely by a combination of the fire, smoke and water as firefighters battled to extinguish the blaze.

Metro Motors Sales manager Keith Cornelius said he was contacted about 2:30 a.m. Monday and notified of the fire at the dealership. He said the cars were stored in an enclosed lot that is considered secured because of video surveillance on the property.

Of the 27 vehicles, six were damaged, and as police and fire officials conduct their investigation into what has been classified as first-degree arson, Metro Motors is assisting in any way possible with the investigation, Cornelius said.

"We are certainly saddened by this, and we are cooperating however we can," he said. "Police are the ones who protect and serve the community. I just hope that they catch whoever is responsible."

Gov. John deJongh Jr. toured the lot with Arthur Joseph, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, looking at the damaged vehicles Monday morning.

DeJongh said the law enforcement community continues to air concerns and make requests known for resources that would help them work more efficiently, and the vandalism is not something that will deter efforts to continue providing equipment to ensure safety of the community.

Arthur Joseph said the arson and callous destruction of the vehicles should not be considered as a crime against the Police Department but as a crime against the taxpayers and the citizens of the community.

"These are vehicles that we have been fighting for, and something like this sets us back," he said. "The current fleet is in bad shape and needs to be replaced, and this is a setback."

The vehicles are the first real police-package vehicles that the department has purchased and would have been ready to hit the streets in a matter of weeks, according to Joseph.

In a recent Senate hearing, St. Croix Police Chief James Parris told Sen. Kenneth Gittens that the cars had already been outfitted for getting on the road, and the department was scheduling defensive driving training for the officers before they would be assigned.

Gittens said Monday that the act in itself speaks volumes about the level of respect that some in the community have for police, and it is not a good message.

"Where is the respect for those who protect this community?" he said. "This should have never occurred and, on the other hand, those in charge should have never waited for something like this to happen."

Joseph said that in a time when the department and overall government is strapped for cash, it is unconscionable that someone would destroy resources that have been so hard to come by.

"This speaks volumes about the state of our community," he said. "But I have confidence in our detectives, and I believe that the person or persons responsible will be brought to justice."

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email [email protected].

Copyright 2013 - The Virgin Islands Daily News, St. Thomas

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