Bail for man who set another afire is $1.05M

Florida Keys KeynoterJuly 21, 2013 

MARATHON -- Stuart Collins, a Raleigh, N.C., man accused of setting afire a truck that had a Homestead man inside, has been ordered held on $1.05 million bond in the Monroe County Detention Center.

Circuit Court Judge Mark Jones imposed the bond at Collins' first appearance July 12, the same day authorities say Collins lit the fire that burned Jose Gonzales, 52, over 61 percent of his body. It happened at JJ's Doghouse bar at U.S. 1 and 107th Street in Marathon.

Collins, who turned 28 two days before his arrest, is charged with attempted murder, arson with bodily injury and arson-property damage, criminal mischief and criminal attempt to commit the other crimes. All are felonies.

Gonzales remains in the burn unit of Ryder Trauma Center in Miami. Monroe County Sheriff's Office Detective Manny Cuervo wrote in his report that "his current prognosis for survival is 50 percent."

Cuervo's probable-cause affidavit filed with the court sheds new details on what was initially known. Here's what he wrote:

At some point in the bar, Collins and Gonzales spoke for a short period of time. Deputy Becky Herrin had previously said they had words over a girl. Gonzales left at some point to rest or sleep in the truck, a 2006 Chevrolet owned by Florida Paving and Construction in Homestead, where Gonzales works.

Around 3:15 a.m., the truck fire was reported. When deputies and firefighters arrived, they found the truck "fully engulfed" in flames. Immediately, "an explosion occurred and Gonzales exited the driver's side of the four-door cab. ..."

Gonzales "was on fire and had to be extinguished" by emergency personnel.

Earlier video from outside the bar shows Collins leaving JJ's through a door on the 107th Street side and then "trying to ignite something" at the back of the truck. He is seen "making several attempts ... then walking away for a short time when he fails and a vehicle is approaching the street."

Collins then returns to try again, and is seen in the video "striking the flame of a Bic lighter. The truck then explodes into a fireball." He then ran to the front of the truck, "where the patrons observed him" running away.

A search of area streets didn't result in police finding him. Rather, Collins was found later in the day "lying under the porch of a business on the northwest side of JJ's Doghouse, about 10 feet away from where his sandals were located."

He was in the same clothes witnesses saw him wearing in the bar and that the video captured him wearing.

When captured, he had an orange Bic lighter in his pocket, in addition to a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes that "contained what appeared to be a melted piece of red plastic consistent with that of a gasoline container," likely the one set on fire on the back of the truck.

When the explosion occurred, JJ's managementemptied the bar and the patrons took cover at the Walgreens across 107th Street. Combined damage to the truck and JJ's is "in excess of $115,000."

Collins has a drunk-driving record from Raleigh from October 2010. His Keys arraignment is set for 1:30 p.m. Aug. 1 in Marathon.

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