Authorities Investigate Rash Of Car Fires

Nine charred vehicles found in Smith County are at the center of an intense arson investigation.

The Smith County Fire Marshal's office and Tyler Police are trying to find those responsible for the crimes.

The first case appeared on April 4, when a stolen Mitsubishi Eclipse from Palestine turned up in Smith County. Authorities thought it was an isolated incident until more cases popped up.

"The following weekend we started getting more than one vehicle a day," says Fire Marshal Jim Seaton. "So that gave us an indication that something was happening out there."

The case load grew even thicker this week when burglars stole three Ford Expeditions from Saturn of Tyler, dumping their burnt remains on a county road. Later in the day, a Noonday auto repairman found three cars on fire outside his business.

"I would estimate the value (of the cars) is somewhere around $12,000," says David Francis with Francis & Richardson Automotive.

So far, the only thing removed from any of the vehicles is a set of custom tires found on the Ford Expedition.

Fire Marshal Jim Seaton says he also found two more stolen cars--one from Tyler, the other from Longview. But with no accelerants found near the vehicles, authorities are not sure what started the blaze.

And with most of the evidence destroyed by fire, its uncertain whether the cases are connected or just coincidence. If you have any information on these arson cases, you can call Tyler Police or Crime stoppers at 597-CUFF.

   Kerri Panchuk, reporting.