NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A van slammed into a Staten Island store and burst into flames on Sunday night while a mother and her three children were in the apartments above.

But police said this was no accident.

Cellphone video shows the flames that fully engulfed a white commercial van and quickly spread to the building just before 11 p.m. Moments earlier, the driver, 42-year-old Anthony Imafidon, intentionally crashed his work van into his ex-wife’s grocery store at Bay and Broad streets, police said.

“I heard ‘boom, boom,’ and when I looked out my window I saw the man ramming the van into the store like three or four times,” Clifton resident Andy Perez told CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas.

Police said the fire did not start as a result of the crash. Instead, they said Imafidon set it. The burned-out van was gutted, the tires melted. Witnesses watched it all unfold from their apartment windows.

“He dumped I guess gasoline all over the truck, all over the gate, set it on fire,” George Taggart said. “It didn’t go on fire. He came back a second time and did it again. It went on fire. That’s when he got caught on fire.”

Neighbors say it’s out of character for Imafidon.

“I found it really weird because he’s a nice guy, he always comes here, I never thought he would do that,” said Lisbel Vargas, a nearby store worker.

The ex-wife made it out safely with her 11- and 13-year-old boys and a 15-year-old girl. Neighbors said she’s well-liked in this community and also owns an African clothing store. Off-camera, she told Cline-Thomas that she’s been divorced since 2016.

“She makes a lot of business in that store. I’ve never seen anybody fighting with her. She don’t argue with nobody or nothing. She stays to herself,” Peggy Taggart said.

Investigators returned to the building on Monday morning. The storefront was boarded up. Crews cleaned up the bread and other debris outside.

Meanwhile, Imafidon was treated at the hospital and released into police custody. He is facing numerous charges, including four counts of attempted murder and arson.

Officers said they don’t know what prompted the incident.


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