Vitaly Tsabak, a 28-year-old resident of Columbia Lane in Palm Coast whose arrest and prison records stretch back five years and across two counties was arrested and charged with arson and burglary following Friday morning’s suspicious house fire at a duplex on Fenimore Lane in Palm Coast. It was a remarkably quick turn-around in the sort of case that could have taken weeks or months to be solved, if then.
Tsabak’s arrest was made possible by a combination of Tsabak’s own apparent alcohol-induced miscalculation, of a resident alerting cops to Tsabak being passed out at the wheel of a car, and, several deputies making the connection between items found in Tsabak’s car and a list of items stolen from the house on Fenimore (among them Cpl. Jon Dopp, was formerly a detective who, earlier this year, was promoted and assigned a supervisory role in the road-patrol division).
Tsabak’s troubled past has repeatedly intersected with other individuals locally, resulting in physical or legal consequences for them. Tsabak was the felon at the center of a 2013 controversy involving Flagler Beach Fire Chief Bobby Pace. Tsabak was fulfilling probation requirements by working community service hours at the fire department. He had been found guilty of selling Oxycodone a year earlier and placed on drug-offender probation. But the hours he reported working on his time sheets did not match up with hours he was observed working on fire department surveillance video. His probation was eventually revoked, leading to his incarceration in state prison until April 2015.
Pace initially faced charges of falsifying Tasabak’s paperwork and obstruction. The falsifying charge was dropped and he complied with a deferred prosecution agreement on the obstruction charge, enabling that charge to be dropped.
Less than a year earlier, Tsabak was arrested following a stabbing at European Village, and charged with probation violation. He’s also been found guilty of grand theft and forgery, among other charges. He has also been arrested in Monroe County.
Friday morning just before 6 a.m., the tenant on the B side of 164 Fenimore Lane called police to report that she was in fear that someone was trying to break in. She was hearing noises in the ceiling. When cops arrived at about 6, they saw smoke pouring out of the B side of the duplex, where the owner, Jessica Evans, lives. Evans was not in the house at the time. Firefighters arrived at 6:15 a.m. and put out the flames, which had consumed parts of the living room, starting in two distinct spots, leading firefighters almost immediately to conclude that foul play was involved: the doors to the residence had also been open when they arrived. A crime scene was established and Jennifer Ruland of the state Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations determined at the scene that the fire had appeared to have been started in “multiple areas in the living room/kitchen,” according to Tsabak’s arrest report.
Tsabak himself was found even as the flames were burning inside the house. A passer-by flagged down a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy to tell him that a man was passed out at the wheel of a car in the middle of Columbia Lane. The passer-by had knocked on the car window but the man would not wake up. The man at the wheel of the white 2013 Dodge Dart, in front of 59 Columbia, was Tsabak. He was “wearing a bandana around his neck in a position that could easily be pulled up to cover his face and also had a screwdriver in his pocket,” his arrest report states. There was a Bud Light can in the cup holder.
Flagler County Fire Rescue personnel were finally able to awaken Tsabak, who declined medical transport to a local hospital, though he had a small laceration on his right thumb and scratches on his wrist, according to the arrest report. So fire rescue paramedics bandaged him at the scene. He told a cop that he’d drank alcohol “a while ago.” His speech was slurred, his eyes glassy. The deputy requested that Tsabak conduct field-sobriety exercises. That led to his arrest at 7:290 a.m. on a charge of drunk driving. But Tsabak at the jail twice refused to take a breath test, and by 8:51 had become so agitated that the deputy dealing with him decided not to ask him more questions.
“An inventory search of the vehicle was conducted” before it was towed to John’s Towing, and before deputies had secured a warrant. A deputy catalogued an inventory that included laptops, two flatscreen televisions, an iPad with a Flagler County Schools identifier (Evans, the owner of the duplex, has a school-age child), and a MacBook. That’s when Dopp told the deputy that the items looked consistent with the items Evans had reported stolen from her house. The deputy stopped the inventory of additional property in the car, pending the securing of a search warrant. The vehicle—which appeared to have marks of blood on its trunk—was sealed and towed to the sheriff’s office.
At the scene of the fire, a deputy canvassing the house detected drops of blood in spots, and pieces of glass by a door that were not the result of the fire, but rather consistent with having been intentionally broken, as indicated by a small opening in the upper portion of the front door. Deputies also looked at footage from home video surveillance showing a white Dodge Neon arrive in the area at about 4 a.m. and leave at 5:14 a.m. (The same arrest report refers to the Dodge as a Dart in an earlier section, and a Neon in that later section.)
Deputies went to Tsabak’s mother’s house and interviewed her and his brother, but both “appeared to me,” a deputy reported, “to be fishing for information as opposed to cooperating with this investigation and providing any information on Vitaly Tsabak.” Tsabak himself, after he was read his Miranda warning and agreed to speak, seemed vague in his answers and seeking to distance himself from any crime, his arrest report states. The report states that he requested to speak with one particular deputy who’s known him for a while, and to whom he admitted something—but what he admitted in particular was censored from the report, and he had no explanations for “a deep cut in his left hand.”
Incongruously, his mugshot at booking shows him smiling, though the damage he allegedly caused, the charges he faces and the potential prison term he could be sentenced to, if found guilty, are no laughing matter.
He was charged with arson, a first-degree felony, three other felony charges—burglary, grand theft, possession of burglary tools—and two misdemeanors stemming from his drunk driving charge. Being a prison-release felon, his sentence, if he is found guilty, would be aggravated as a re-offender. He could face 30 years or more in prison—if found guilty. He is being held at the Flagler County jail without bond.