Michigan man convicted of setting fire to semi trucks in Inland Empire


A man from a Detroit suburb has been convicted for the Southern California portion of a string of two dozen burned semi trucks.

Viorel Pricop, 66, of Allen Park, Michigan, was convicted on Tuesday of six counts of arson of vehicle or property in interstate commerce.

Between December 2021 and September 2022, Pricop “maliciously set fire” to six semi truck trailers belonging to Phoenix-based Swift Transportation, four of which were in San Bernardino County and two of which were in Riverside County, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release.

“In each of the incidents, the Swift-owned trailer was parked at or near a truck stop when a fire occurred on the trailer portion of the vehicle, mainly on or near the trailer tires,” authorities said.

In addition to the Southern California fires — two in Coachella and one each in Newberry SpringsLudlowBarstow and Hesperia — Pricop burned at least 18 other Swift semi trailers beginning in June 2020.

Most incidents occurred on the 10 and 40 freeways and stretched as far away as McCalla, Alabama. Pricop faces additional federal charges in those burnings in Arizona and New Mexico.

Pricop’s motivation appears to be related to a previous conviction for a theft spree involving Swift trucks from 2010 to 2015.

“Pricop was sentenced to time served in that case, amounting to approximately 26 months’ imprisonment,” the release said. “His term of supervised release ended in June 2019, approximately one year before the arsons in this case began.”

In addition to the timing, Pricop was implicated by evidence seized from his truck, home and personal vehicle, as well as cell tower records connected to a phone and a navigation unit, and a similar method used in each of the arsons.

“This defendant went on a rampage of retaliation against a victim of his last crime,” United States Attorney Martin Estrada said in the release. “Rather than take advantage of the second chance offered to him, he chose an incredibly reckless and dangerous path. We will not accept arson and other violent crime on our streets, and I am grateful that this defendant will now be held to account.”

Pricop is scheduled to be sentenced on June 7. He faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison and up to 20 years on each count.


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