Text message, name written in melted tar led Cary police to teen charged in culvert fire

rgallagher@newsobserver.comApril 4, 2013 

— Police say they found the teen accused of starting a fire in a culvert under Cary Parkway because he left his first name in melted tar outside the culvert and sent a text message telling someone to look at what he had done there, according to a search warrant made public this week.

Police have charged 17-year-old Tristan Zammit with one count of misdemeanor damage to property. The fire on March 21 caused the culvert to partially collapse, forcing the state Department of Transportation to close Cary Parkway, between Two Creeks Road and Lake Pine Drive, so it could be replaced.

The day after the fire, Detective J.A. Young asked a magistrate for a warrant to search Zammit’s home on Brownfield Court and seize electronics and clothing. Young said someone had called CrimeStoppers to say that Zammit had sent the text message on the night of the fire because he “wanted the other individual to see what he had done in burning a culvert on Cary Parkway.”

The tip fit with “Tristan” having been written in melted tar on the head wall of the north end of the culvert that carries stormwater under the road. The tar was from a coating used to protect the steel culvert from corrosion, Young said.

The detective said he and investigators from the Cary Fire Department and the Wake County Fire Marshal’s office concluded that someone had heated the tar, which could have caused a vapor that flared and began the blaze.

Highway officials say the cost of replacing the culvert could reach as much as $500,000.

Police went to Zammit’s home the night after the fire and took away a cellphone, an iPod Touch, flip-flops, a sweatshirt, socks and shorts, the search warrant says.

Young said he wanted to get “any and all digital storage media” under Zammit’s control because of the reported text message and the clothes because they might carry evidence of the burning tar.

Police arrested Zammit four days later. Zammit admitted setting the fire, Cary police said when he was arrested.

Cary Parkway is expected to reopen April 15.

Gallagher: 919-829-4572

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