Cab driver says she dropped arson suspect near Arlington house fire

Vacant house badly damaged, man arrested, police say

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A man arrested in connection with a suspicious Arlington house fire took a cab to the area late Tuesday night and was “acting fidgety,” according to the cab driver.

The Coastal Cab driver, Tiandra Mista, said police swarmed her cab at CJ'z Food Mart just after the man, Pedro Sanchez, got in for his second ride of the night.

Sanchez, 34, was arrested and charged with arson.

Mista said that earlier Sanchez had called her for a ride to the Lone Star Road area from a hotel at Atlantic and Kernan boulevards. She picked him up around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, and he told her he “had business” in the area. Mista said he asked if she could pick him up again at the food mart later, and she agreed. He said he would call her again.

Between the time she dropped Sanchez off and his request for a second pick-up, police were called to a house on Lamanto Avenue -- around the corner from the food mart -- after a witness heard two loud booms and a man was seen running from a vacant house.

Initially, Jacksonville police reported there was a bomb investigation in the area, but then firefighters were called to the house.

Officers announced about 5:45 a.m. that there was no suspicious device and a person of interest was being held for questioning in connection with the fire, which had been deemed suspicious. The fire caused significant damage to the front of the house.

Mista said Sanchez wasn’t carrying anything that she could see, but he was acting fidgety during the ride to the Arlington food mart from the hotel.

After talking to police and connecting the dots, she said she’s thankful she wasn’t hurt.

“Whenever they told me that he did have a weapon on him and that it was loaded, I immediately thanked God, started crying, and I was ready to get out of here,” Mista said.

Police questioned Mista about Sanchez.

"The police asked me if I smelled any fumes or anything, and I didn’t smell anything," Mista said.

Mista said she understands there are risks that come alone with driving late at night, but she never imagined anything like this. 
"It was the scariest night of my life," Mista said. "I’ve never been in that -- that close to danger -- ever in my life."

Firefighters had to come back around 6 a.m. Wednesday to take care of hot spots at the home, which neighbors said has been vacant since last July.

Investigators later learned the home is owned by Reo Asset Acquisition LLC in Golden, Colorado, but attempts to contact the owner were not successful.

The state fire marshal will determine the cause of the fire.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office at 904-630-0500 or CrimeStoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.

About the Authors:

Florida-born multi-media journalist pays special attention to issues in St. Johns County.

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.