Shortly after midnight Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies were alerted to a fire at the Citgo gas station at 4920 Belle Terre Parkway in Palm Coast. The fire had been set on a fence attached to the business and to a dumpster. A witness reported seeing someone in a gray shirt and black pants light the fire.
Less than 20 minutes later, a deputy spotted someone driving a car with a license plate taped over with cardboard. The deputy pulled over Daniel Da Costa, a 26-year-old resident of 36 Pretoria Lane in Palm Coast.
DaCosta was nervous and shaking, according to sheriff’s deputy Phil Conway.
“Why are you acting so nervous?” Conway asked him. Whenever the deputy would ask him a question, DaCosta would answer with a question, his voice cracking. DaCosta said his cousin placed the cardboard over the license plate because he was spray-painting the vehicle.
Conway asked him to step out of the car. “What I want you to understand is,” Conway tells him, according to a body cam recording of the traffic stop, “my concern at this point in time is you’re driving around, you’ve got a cardboard taped to your license plate, and you’ve got a firearm sitting on your front seat.”
As the deputy tells the suspect of his concerns, people driving by stop and tell deputies of another fire nearby, next to Publix. Deputies initially thought it had been the original fire that had reignited. But it was a different fire, its flames reaching as high as 15 feet, embers flying through the air. A deputy tried to suppress the fire with an extinguisher, to no avail.
“I radioed dispatch informing them we had an arsonist on our hands,” Conway reported, “due to the fact that two separate fires were lit in a small proximity.” The search was on for a man with a gray shirt and dark pants. A review of video surveillance from a business showed the same Ford Fusion DaCosta had been driving, backing into a spot on the west side of the Publix parking lot. The video shows a man stepping out of the car with an object in his hand. The man matches the description of DaCosta.
By then DaCosta had been released from the initial traffic stop and had gone home, but somehow two hours later was brought back to the scene.
DaCosta at first denied having anything to do with the fire, but then allegedly confessed and walked the deputies through each step he took to light the two fires, starting with what he said caused him to do it: he’d been upset after an argument with his mother, and because his father had died two years before. He said he’d placed the cardboard over the license plate himself. After lighting one of the fires with a homemade firebomb, he checked on it to make sure it was burning well. He then proceeded to the next location, where he used cardboard and newspapers to light that fire. Afterward, he checked on both fires to ensure they were burning.
“This dumpster was in close proximity of the business and had a great likelihood of catching the business on fire if it was not dismantled,” a deputy reported.
“This is a textbook arsonist,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “Start fires and then remain in the area to watch. He could have easily caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage due to his criminal actions. If not for community members calling when they saw something, a traffic stop for a hidden tag, technology and the quick actions and investigation by our deputies, this could have had a catastrophic outcome and he may not have been caught.”
DaCosta was charged with two counts of second-degree arsons and a count of manufacturing a firebomb, all felonies. He’s being held at the Flagler County jail.