Hernando County Man Sets Police Car on Fire

December 13, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

When a person gets arrested for causing damages to property, it can result in several different charges in Florida. However, when there is fire involved, the accused person will most likely be charged with arson. Arson occurs when a person purposefully sets fire to a building or structure.

In a recent Florida case, a man in Hernando County lit a police car on fire and blamed it on being drunk and stupid. This article will provide details on the case and information on arson charges in Florida.

What was the Case?

Anthony Thomas Tarduno, 48, was arrested in Hernando County after lighting a police car on fire. On December 7th, 2022, Tarduno walked out of a local bar and passed by a marked deputy’s vehicle. Around 5 pm, the sheriff’s office received several reports of a police car that had been set on fire outside of a nearby apartment complex.

The reporting fire crew managed to extinguish the flames upon arriving at the scene. Police inspected the vehicle and noticed the most severe damage in and around the back passenger side of the patrol car. There had been pieces of garbage placed underneath the car’s gas tank, which police believed to have been set there intentionally.

While detectives conducted their investigation of the burnt vehicle, Tarduno approached them and admitted to causing the fire. Tarduno allegedly told police, “Yeah, I’m the one who did that. I set that car on fire.” The defendant went on to explain he left the bar on Northcliffe Blvd around 4:30 pm, saw the police car, and just decided to light it on fire.

During his interview with detectives, Tarduno claimed that he was “intoxicated” and that whenever he gets “drunk” he does “stupid things.”

The following is a statement from the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office’s press release:

“While walking, Tarduno noticed the patrol vehicle and decided he’d like to set it on fire. He went to a nearby dumpster and grabbed a bag of garbage. Tarduno then placed the bag under the patrol vehicle and used a lighter to set it ablaze…Tarduno was cooperative with the investigation, even telling detectives he was a ‘professional arsonist’ and has been arrested and convicted for similar offenses.”

Tarduno told police he returned to the bar after lighting the police car on fire, but “felt bad” several minutes later and headed back out to the scene to confess.

When questioned about why he chose the deputy’s marked vehicle, Tarduno told authorities, “I wasn’t targeting that because it was a police car, I was going to set it on fire if it would have been a minivan.”

In addition to the police car’s damages, a car that was parked by the Hernando County patrol vehicle also received damages. Tarduno has since been arrested and faces two charges of arson. According to the Sherriff’s office, he was previously arrested on the same charge in 2012, in 2011 for Indecent Exposure, and in 2018 for Driving While License Suspended or Revoked .

Arson Charges in Florida

Florida Statute section 806.01 defines arson as when a person willfully and unlawfully, or during the commission of a felony, causes a fire or explosion and causes damages to (1) any dwelling, whether occupied or not, or the dwelling’s contents, (2) any structure where people are normally present, or (30 any other structure that the arsonist knew or reasonably could have believed to be occupied by other people.

The ‘structure’ is defined very broadly, as any building, any enclosed area with a roof over it, any lot or items associated with the lot, any tent or portable building, and even any vehicle, vessel, watercraft, or aircraft.

The structure where people are normally present includes any jail, hospital, office building, church, educational institute, etc. In other words, a person can be charged with an arson crime in Florida for setting a property on fire intentionally and without being permitted to do so.

Conviction by The State

In order for the State to secure a conviction, they must first prove the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant either (1) willfully and unlawfully, or (2) while engaged in the commission of a felony, caused a fire or explosion; and
  2. The fire or explosion caused damages to one of the three following:
    • a dwelling (or its contents), whether occupied or not, or
    • any structure where people would normally be present, or
    • A structure that the defendant knew or had reasonable grounds to believe would be occupied by a human being at the time of the fire or explosion.

In order for the State to convict the defendant of Arson, they do not need to prove that the defendant intended to damage the dwelling or structure.

Penalties for Arson

Penalties for an arson charge can vary depending on the severity of the offense. In Florida, a person can be charged with arson in the second or first degree. The main difference between second-degree and first-degree arson is human occupancy.

A person who sets a fire or explosion to a structure where people are not normally present commits second-degree arson. An example would be if the defendant set fire to an abandoned store at a time when it wouldn’t be reasonable for people to be there. The penalties for second-degree arson include up to a $10,000 fine and up to fifteen years in prison.

A person who sets a fire or explosion to a dwelling or structure where people are present, or where the offender had reason to believe that the property was a place where people are present, commits first-degree arson. Examples of occupied structures include (but are not limited to):

  • Church or place of worship
  • Health care facility
  • Business establishment
  • Educational establishment
  • Any vehicle (car, aircraft, watercraft, etc.)

The penalties for a first-degree felony in Florida include up to a $10,000 fine and up to 30 years of imprisonment.

Under Florida Statute Section 806.031, the offender can get additional charges if any person ends up getting injured by the arson. This includes firefighters and is punished as a first-degree misdemeanor. A first-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in jail, up to $1,000 in fines, or both.

To read more about arson, you can head over to our informative page here.

Annual Arson Incident Report

The United States Bomb Data Center (USBDC) reports an annual Arson Incident Report (AIR), which reviews the total number of fire-related incidents reported by using the Bomb Arson Tracking System (BATS). The report includes and examines any incendiary (arson), undetermined, accidental, threats, natural, and wildlife fire incidents.

The following is a list of statistics from their 2021 Arson Incident Report:

  • There were a reported 22,893 fire-related incidents captured by BATS
  • 6,465 incidents were reported as “Incendiary or Arson” which made up 28% of all reported fires
  • 71 incidents were reported as “threat” for arson
  • Victim injuries accounted for 72% of all injuries, with the highest population reported for arson and accidental incidents
  • Out of the 167 injuries reported from arson incidents, the victims made up the majority with 57%
  • Out of the 74 fatalities reported from the arson incidents, the victims made up the majority with 84%
  • The amount in damages caused by arson incidents was valued at $101,565,233

To view the entire report, refer to their page here.

Arson Expert Witness

In a criminal case, an expert witness is often used to back the investigation by either the State or the defense team. The role of an expert witness can provide a better understanding of the alleged crime, along with determining whether the accused person is at fault. An expert witness’ testimony can either increase or decrease the claim of who is at fault for the arson—if anyone.

Fire, arson, and explosion expert witnesses in Florida can assist the defense in a criminal case by providing testimony and forensic services in the matter of the arson investigation. Arson experts, including Certified Fire Protection Specialists (CFPS), can testify on the origin and detection of the arson, the fire equipment used, and the investigators’ standards of care.

To find out more about how an expert witness can help defend your case, read our page here.

Defenses to Arson Charges

Since arson cases usually result in damage to property, it may seem impossible to fight the charges against you. However, there are still valid defenses that can be used in an arson case. We first advise speaking with a skilled defense attorney to strategize a defense for your case.

The following is a list of potential defenses for an arson charge in Florida:

  • The defendant had the authority to start the fire with a permit or other documentation;
  • Lack of Intent to Damage the Property of Others; the defendant has proof that the fire started was an accident;
  • Exception for Personal Property; the State does not have sufficient evidence to prove there was destruction caused by the alleged arson; and/or
  • The defendant had an alibi during the time of the offense.

An excellent example of the above defenses can be found in the case of State v. Mayle. The court found that even when a defendant set his own vehicle on fire, for the burning to constitute arson, the defendant needed to have done it in an unlawful manner. Because the defendant set the fire to his own property without any danger or damage to other people or property, nor intent to cause such damage, the defendant did not violate the law.

To find out which defense works best with your case, speak with a skilled defense attorney in your area.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one have been accused of arson, your next step should be to reach out to a criminal defense lawyer near you. Due to the nature of arson and the likely damages it can cause, the prosecution is known to prosecute arson charges harshly. A conviction can lead to imprisonment and expensive fines.

Don Pumphrey and his team have years of experience representing Florida citizens who have been accused of a crime. We work directly with our clients, vowing to stand in their corner throughout the entire process. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm and let us fight for your future. Call us today for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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