STATESVILLE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — A 49-year-old Statesville man is behind bars after he was caught on camera lighting four police cruisers on fire at a gas station. He is accused of leaving behind around $20,000 worth of damage.

Patches of ashes were scattered across the 7-Eleven parking lot just steps away from propane tanks after four North Carolina State High Patrol Trooper cruisers were set on fire. Troopers say Daniel Zelo poured gas on the vehicles and lit them on fire.

Melissa Rivera happened to be outside the gas station at the time.

“We noticed [Daniel] was pouring something and next thing we know it was slow motion,” Rivera said. “Only a second later boom flames I scurried inside to tell the troopers they were inside having coffee.”

When Rivera told the troopers, NCSHP first sergeant Daniel Hall says they ran outside to spring into action.

“They got in the trunk to get the fire extinguishers and thank goodness they extinguished the fire before the cars were totally destroyed,” Sgt. Hall said.

Sergeant Hall says the fire caused $20,000 worth of damage in total to four Dodge Chargers. At least one car is completely undrivable. Hall says Zelo, the suspect was still in the area with a gas can after troopers put out the flames.

“His kids were taken away from him and he felt like he might pay us back somehow that way,” Hall said. “He was apologetic.”

Jail records show Zelo is in the Iredell County Detention Center charged with four counts of burning personal property held on a $100,000 bond.

“Mental health plays a major role in a lot of the crimes are committed,” Sgt. Hall said. “Hopefully, if that is the case, hopefully, they can give him some help.”

With a shortage of spare cars, Trooper Hall says you may see burned bumpers on the highways.

“They’re going to drive around like that with holes in their bumpers for who knows how long,” Sgt. Hall said.

Hall says the troopers spent a long time breathing in the smoke and fire extinguisher fumes so some of them left with sore throats, but they’re back on the job.

STATESVILLE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – A Statesville man has been taken into custody after several NC State Highway Patrol vehicles were set on fire outside a local 7-Eleven this week, Highway Patrol said.

The incident happened around 9:50 p.m. Monday, April 18, at the 7-Eleven convenience store located at 234 Turnersburg Highway in Statesville.

NC Highway Patrol said several troopers had stopped at the 7-Eleven while on their break and were alerted by someone that their patrol cars were on fire outside.

A witness was able to identify the suspect and tell troopers at the scene. Troopers immediately went outside and were able to extinguish the multiple fires with a fire extinguisher.

Highway Patrol said one of the troopers recognized the identified suspect, who was still in the immediate area and took him into custody. 

Iredell County EMS responded to evaluate the troopers for any smoke inhalation issues. None were transported to the hospital, Highway Patrol said. Four patrol cars were damaged; three of the vehicles were not drivable and required towing from the scene, NCHP said.

The suspect has been identified as Daniel Francis Zelo, 49, of Statesville. The Statesville Police Department is handling the ongoing investigation and pending charges, Highway Patrol said.