Nocturnal firebug torches 6 cars in Northeast

Paul and Carol Sims , of Bustleton, awoke about 4 a.m. Sunday to find their SUV engulfed in flames. Cops say it was one of six cars torched overnight in the Northeast.
Paul and Carol Sims , of Bustleton, awoke about 4 a.m. Sunday to find their SUV engulfed in flames. Cops say it was one of six cars torched overnight in the Northeast. (MORGAN ZALOT / DAILY NEWS STAFF)
Posted: October 16, 2012

JOHN PILOTTI planned to spend a relaxing Sunday with his 4-year-old granddaughter before going in for a round of chemotherapy on Monday. But that was thwarted when an apparent arsonist struck on Pilotti's quaint Bustleton block, torching his pristine 2007 Ford F-150.

"About 5 [in the morning], I looked out the window and it was pure orange inside. The flames were four to five feet above," Pilotti, 56, said as he surveyed what was left of his truck outside his home on Clark Street near Haldeman Avenue. "That truck didn't have a scratch on it. It had 10,000 miles. It was spotless."

Pilotti's was one of six trucks and SUVs within a one-mile radius in the Northeast's Rhawnhurst and Bustleton neighborhoods that cops say were doused with an accelerant - likely gasoline - and set ablaze in the wee hours of the morning Sunday.

Firefighters were called to the first blaze, which destroyed two handicapped-accessible vans on Castor Avenue near Solly at 3:20 a.m., a police spokeswoman said. Within an hour, cops and fire crews were called to four other car fires in Bustleton.

Investigators said it appeared that whoever lit the blazes poured a flammable liquid in or around the driver's door of the vehicles, then set them on fire.

"All things considered, it's fine compared to what could have happened," said Robin Ciocca, 38, another victim of the apparent arsonist. She, her husband, Vince Ciocca, and their three kids - ages 3, 6, and 8 - were sleeping in their house on Lott Avenue near Hoff Street when someone torched their 2009 GMC Sierra, which was parked in the driveway.

The fire spread to their house, damaging their garage and the roof above.

"It's very quiet here, for all this to have happened," Robin Ciocca said. "There was no time to think, we just got out."

Paul Sims, 53, whose wife discovered their 2007 Chevy Trailblazer burning in their driveway on Birwood Street, around the corner from the Cioccas' house, used a garden hose to keep the flames at bay while they waited for firefighters to arrive.

"We could see a pillar of smoke from the other car burning," Sims said as he surveyed the metal frame, ash and soot that was left of the SUV on Sunday.

No one was injured, police said. But for Pilotti and the other victims, it was a kick in the gut.

"Six payments left and it was mine," Pilotti said, sadly nodding toward his charred truck, a spot of its black paint still glimmering from the coat of wax he put on it Saturday. "It still hasn't hit me."


Contact Morgan Zalot at zalotm@phillynews.com or 215-854-5928. Follow her on Twitter @morganzalot. Read her blog at PhillyConfidential.com.

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