Austin police looking for man accused of lighting car on fire for insurance money

AFD fire truck Austin Fire Department_106934

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin police are looking for a man who they say lit his car on fire in April to collect insurance money.

Authorities responded to a call of a vehicle fire at the intersection of Fifth Street and Red River Street on April 6 at 12:44 a.m. Firefighters found a 2018 BMW at the scene with smoke coming out of its trunk. They forced their way into the trunk and put the fire out.

Investigators say they found several things they thought were suspicious in the car including matches, paper stuffed into the battery compartment and a water bottle filled with a liquid they determined as paint thinner. They said they also found light-bulbs hot-wired to the car’s battery and grounded to the frame.

Police called the owner of the vehicle, 42-year-old Emmanuel Gonnel to the scene. Gonnel told investigators he had driven the car downtown to hang out with friends. He said there was nothing out of the ordinary with the car as he drove it downtown.

During the investigation, police discovered Gonell had around 28 insurance claims filed since 2004. They said of those claims three were vehicle fires involving expensive sports and luxury cars. Investigators also said those fires occurred under similar circumstances to the incident in April.

According to police, Gonell took out a Geico insurance policy on the vehicle approximately three weeks before the fire. They also discovered Gonell was making $1,699 monthly payments on the car.

Gonell faces a second-degree felony arson charge.

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