Fire marshal: Toyota dealership fire likely arson

Jon Wilcox By Jon Wilcox

Nov. 30, 2017 at 9:21 p.m.
Updated Dec. 1, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Burned vehicles sit at the back of the Toyota of Victoria lot Nov. 13. Three vehicles caught fire about 5:30 a.m.

Burned vehicles sit at the back of the Toyota of Victoria lot Nov. 13. Three vehicles caught fire about 5:30 a.m.   Evan Lewis for The Victoria Advocate

Fire investigators think the blaze that destroyed three vehicles at a Victoria dealership weeks ago was arson.

"At this time, we are considering this an intentionally set fire. We are conducting a criminal investigation," said Victoria Fire Marshal Tom Legler on Thursday.

Despite Legler's theory, his office has yet to officially complete its investigation, which could result in arrests. He said the Thanksgiving holiday and abundance of leads have slowed progress.

According to the Texas Penal Code, arson of a vehicle, in most cases, is a second-degree felony and carries a sentence of two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

About 5:45 a.m. Nov. 13, firefighters arrived at Toyota of Victoria to find three vehicles in a rear parking lot consumed by fire. The flames also damaged a fence surrounding the lot but did not spread to buildings on the property.

Since that day, fire investigators have reviewed a variety of evidence and leads, Legler said.

In fact, he said, his office was in the process Thursday of investigating a lead offered by a tipster the day before.

Citing the ongoing nature of the investigation, Legler refused to reveal the evidence that led investigators to suspect arson.

"All of our investigations are based on the evidence we collect and interviews that we conduct," Legler said.

For example, some of the evidence to be reviewed, Legler said, includes social media communications.

Legler's office also is examining more traditional evidence, such as samples to be sent to a Department of Public Safety forensic lab and surveillance camera footage recorded at the dealership.

"They are all pieces of the puzzle," he said.

In the meantime, the dealership's general manager said he and his employees are awaiting the results of the investigation.

"I hope they catch them," said general manager Joshua Smith.


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