Payson Police are investigating the arson fire of a stolen Ford pickup truck out of Tempe, and wondering if they'll ever solve what seems to be a mystery.
"We think they torched it. It had to be started intentionally. And whoever took it had to have left on foot because Officer Garvin was right there," said Payson Police Det. Steve Johnson, who is heading the arson investigation.
"It's unusual for them to burn the truck," he said.
The incident occurred Sunday night and a Payson police officer just happened to be at the scene.
Officer Donny Garvin narrowly escaped injury when the black Ford pickup suddenly burst into flames near where he was standing on Highway 260 near Payson Concrete and Materials.
It was 11:30 p.m. and Garvin said he had stopped a motorist and had just issued a ticket. The driver of the car had left the scene and Garvin was completing his paperwork when he heard what sounded like a fireball erupting.
He was about 20 feet from where the truck was parked on a dirt road across the highway from Payson Concrete.
"I saw flames," Garvin said. "I saw that the driver's door was open, and I was attempting to see if anyone was in it when the windows exploded and sent glass flying everywhere."
He said a series of small explosions sent pieces of the vehicle 20- to 30-feet away.
Garvin called the Payson Fire Department and firefighters responded, put out the flames and determined that there were no victims in the truck.
"The vehicle had no license plate and the (identification) number had been burned off," Garvin said. "It was towed to the Payson Police Department impound yard and the case was turned over to Det. Steve Johnson."
Police searched for suspects in the area, and did not locate the owner of the vehicle until 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Linda Robles, of Tempe, reported her 1997 Ford truck stolen Monday at 10 a.m.
Johnson said he has spoken to the woman, but got no information that was helpful to his investigation. Tempe Police will also look into the case as a vehicle theft.
Johnson said part of the engine had melted in the fire. "There was a tremendous amount of heat in that fire. And what's unusual about this is that there was no previous damage to the truck, no scrapes in the paint -- and they took the license plate.
"This one does not make a whole lot of sense at all."
Anyone with information about the vehicle or those involved can call Det. Steve Johnson at 474-5177, ext. 252.