Riverside Chevrolet cars burn in 'suspicious fire'

Fire follows News4Jax I-TEAM investigation into dealership's practices

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – At least five cars at Riverside Chevrolet were damaged by fire around 2 a.m. Monday. Three of the vehicles appear to be destroyed. This is the same Jacksonville dealership at the center of a week-long I-TEAM investigation

Someone passing by the Chevy dealership on Philips Highway spotted the flames and called 911.  JSO and Fire Rescue crews arrived at dealership around 2:20 a.m.

The state fire marshal is working with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office to learn the cause and origin of the fire, but spokesman Jon Moore said the fire was suspicious.

An employee of the dealership told News4Jax that they have surveillance video of someone lighting the fire, using gas cans. Another person claimed a customer started the fire.

News4Jax reviewed surveillance video from a business across the street showing the fire. It started at about 2:06 a.m. Within about eight minutes, passersby arrive and make a phone call. About four minutes later police arrive, followed shortly by firefighters.

The fire comes days after the I-TEAM reported on a long list of complaints accusing the dealership of not paying off cars customers traded in, which ruined their credit scores.

Dealership managers said they are looking into those allegations and are trying to satisfy their customers.

There is no indication that the fire is connected with those complaints.

The owner of a Chevy Camaro said his car was in for servicing and was destroyed in Monday's early morning fire and told the I-TEAM he believes the fire may have been the act of an angry customer.

Clayton Koster, a Vietnam veteran, said he traded in his truck in July and Riverside Chevrolet failed to payoff the prior balance, which dropped his credit score 50 points.

Koster said he complained to the dealership, the Better Business Bureau and General Motors, but never got a response.

"They never returned my call. I never heard from anybody," Koster said. "But I still get things in the mail - they want me to bring my truck back for servicing. Of course I don't do that. I go somewhere else."

Koster said if the fire was intentionally set, it's no way to react.

Following the fire, the I-TEAM asked for comments from the dealership's general manager and owner, but has heard no response.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call the state arson tip line at 1-877-NO-ARSON.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.