PALM COAST — A Palm Coast man used Molotov cocktails to set off fire bombs behind a Publix and a Pizza Hut before dawn Wednesday and told deputies he did it to make a statement, according to reports from the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.
Daniel DaCosta, 26, was charged with two counts of second-degree arson and possession of a fire bomb with explosion or damage, a third-degree felony. He remained jailed without bond Wednesday morning.
According to an arrest report, the first fire was reported just after 12:20 a.m. behind a Citgo Gas Station, 4920 Belle Terre Parkway. The fire raged next door to the Publix in the Belle Terre Crossing shopping plaza, in an area known as a makeshift homeless encampment.
A Publix employee told 911 dispatchers a homeless man started a small campfire and gave deputies a description of suspect’s clothes.
That fire appeared to graze the gas station, but deputies quickly put it out. They couldn’t find any suspects.
About 13 minutes later, one of the officers who responded to the scene stopped DaCosta driving near the Publix in a Ford Fusion which had a piece of cardboard covering its license plate.
The officer noted DaCosta was shaking, his voice was cracking and he appeared very nervous during the traffic stop. At the same time, several units began responding to the second fire bomb DaCosta allegedly set off behind the Pizza Hut. And the deputy released him from the traffic stop to go handle that blaze.
That fire engulfed a large dumpster and a wall behind the pizzeria, with flames as high as 15 feet. Noting that it was the second fire in a small vicinity, deputies began searching for an arsonist and reviewed surveillance footage from the Publix fire. That footage showed DaCosta pull up to the west side of the store holding an object minutes before the fire was reported.
Deputies went to DaCosta’s house and he initially denied lighting the fires. But he quickly relented and admitted he started the blazes because he’d had an argument with his mother that night and he was upset about his father dying a few years ago. He said he targeted the Publix because he worked there three years ago and “had bad feelings” toward the store, according to the report.
He walked officers through how he started the fires and said he drove past both of them to make sure they were “burning well.” DaCosta said he “did it to make a statement,” although “he was not sure what type of statement he was trying to make,” a deputy’s report stated.
Investigators recovered a beer bottle DaCosta used to engineer one of his Molotov cocktails near the Publix. He claimed family members who’d served in the military taught him how to make fire bombs.
Deputies indicated DaCosta’s actions were reckless and could’ve caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages if the fires weren’t extinguished quickly. In fact, the two blazes caused at least $1,200 in damages, the report showed.
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