An arrested man who was being taken to the Wake County Detention Center set the back seat of a Zebulon police cruiser on fire Friday night while he was handcuffed and locked in the car, police said.
Police had arrested Eric D. Timberlake, 31, who lives in the Sandy Ridge Apartments in Wendell, on robbery and other charges from March and for failure to appear in court on several charges.
Police had scuffled with Timberlake and used a Taser stun-gun to subdue him, Chief Timothy Hayworth said Monday.
Officer Andrew Collins was driving Timberlake to appear before a magistrate at the detention center in Raleigh when Timberlake was able to start a fire in the police car, an arrest warrant stated.
“It’s the first time I have ever heard of a guy setting fire to a car that he was handcuffed and locked in the back of,” Hayworth said.
Collins had searched Timberlake for weapons or drugs before putting him into the back of the 2014 Dodge Challenger, the chief said.
Collins had found a cigarette lighter, which has not been considered a weapon, and put it back into Timberlake’s front pocket. Personal property is taken by jail officers when each prisoner is booked in, not by police, Hayworth said.
“The policy is changing as of today,” Hayworth said, and lighters will now be taken along with weapons or drugs.
Collins had seen Timberlake squirming in the back seat, the chief said, but could tell why.
Collins was in the area of Interstate 440 and Rock Quarry Road in Raleigh when he saw the fire start, and he pulled off the road, called for backup and put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher.
Timberlake was not burned, and a Wake County sheriff’s deputy took him on to the detention center the chief said.
The arrest warrant for the incident charged Timberlake with burning personal property, which is a felony, and misdemeanor assault on a government employee.
When Timberlake got to the detention center, the magistrate set his bail at $330,000 on all the charges, and he was held for a court appearance Monday.
Timberlake set fire to Collins’ uniform hat, tie and gloves, which were in the back seat, and they caught a traffic safety vest and the plastic seat aflame.
Hayworth said the cruiser will have to be professionally cleaned in an effort to remove the smell of the burning plastic, then officials will look at the cost of having the rear seat replaced.
The department had planned on having the cruiser in its fleet, and officials hope they will not have to scrap it, the chief said.