SANTA FE, N.M. (KAMR/KCIT) — According to the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security Emergency Management, a Michigan man has been arrested related to an arson case that covered eight states, two years and 25 truck fires, some of which were on the High Plains.
Officials said that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) worked with the New Mexico Fire Marshals Office during the multistate investigation involving fires that occurred along the I-10 and I-40 corridors from Alabama to California between June 2020 and September 2022, including:
- Nine fires in New Mexico
- Three fires in Texas
- One fire in Oklahoma
- Six fires in California
- Three fires in Arizona
- One fire in Louisiana
- One fire in Arkansas
- One fire in Alabama
The New Mexico Fire Marshals Office said that, on Oct. 24, 2020, they received a report about a vehicle fire involving a Swift tractor-trailer in Tucumcari, along I-40. The rear of the semi-truck was on fire and the driver was asleep in the cab, and fire marshals determined that it had been the result of “a criminal act of arson and attempted murder.”
The Oct. 24 fire was similar to many others in the case, according to details in a criminal complaint filed in October in a federal court in California. According to an affidavit filed with the complaint, 25 semi-truck trailers owned by Swift Transportation were set on fire while parked or stopped at fuel stations or rest areas.
In the High Plains area, a few of the fires included:
- June 22, 2020, on US Route 66 in Santa Rosa, N.M.
- Oct. 24, 2020, along I-40 in Tucumcari, N.M.
- Jan. 1, 2022, at a Love’s Travel Stop in Panhandle, Texas
- Feb. 20, 2022, when two fires occurred at a Flying J Travel Center and a Love’s Travel Stop in Tucumcari, N.M.
The New Mexico Fire marshals Office investigated five other Swift tractor-trailer fires with ATF from 2020 to 2022. Officials detailed that investigators found a GPS device installed in a commercial truck that was present at all of the fires, as well as a phone owned by the same person who owned the truck and GPS in the general area of 24 of the 25 Swift truck fires.
Court documents detailed that Viorel Pricop of Allen Park, Michigan, was arrested in October 2022 in the wake of the investigation and a search of his vehicle and home. During the search, officials reported finding, “evidence of his alleged involvement in the series of arsons” such as logbooks, bills of landing, receipts, and other records that included pickup and delivery dates coinciding with the fires.
The criminal complaint against Pricop noted he was charged with, “Arson of Property in Interstate Commerce,” which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison and a maximum of 20 years.
“The Fire Marshals office is committed to the safety of the traveling public and commerce in our state,” said New Mexico State Fire Marshal Randy Varela regarding the case and arrest, “Our fire investigators worked diligently, in concert with ATF, to track down the suspect who recklessly endangered life and property in New Mexico and across the United States.”