Fire marshals arrest suspect in Clermont semi-truck arson

State Fire Marshal investigators arrested a Miami man Thursday on a charge that he set fire to a locked semi-truck without a trailer parked in a convenience store lot in Clermont on July 16.

Donald Gilles was charged with arson after investigators pieced together a case by watching a man on a store surveillance and by interviewing witnesses. The video first showed a man in a pickup go into the store to buy a lighter about 5:55 p.m., drive away, then come back about an hour later.

Witnesses told the fire marshal that Gilles got out of his pickup, pulled a hammer from the back seat and smashed the passenger window of the 1999 Peterbilt truck. Then, he poured a liquid from what appeared to be a bleach bottle onto a rag, the report stated. Moments later, the truck erupted into flames at the store at 190 N. U.S. Highway 27, which is the intersection with Citrus Tower Boulevard.

Keith Walker, owner of the truck, told authorities he has permission to park the vehicle there when he is not on the road with his rig. Walker identified Gilles for authorities. He said that he has a lease with Gilles, who finds loads for him to haul and gets a 10-percent cut of his profits. That sometimes amounts to $2,500 a month, he said.

Walker said he recently applied for a job that would keep him closer to his family and he stated on the application that Gilles could be contacted as a reference.

Firefighters reported that the truck was 75 percent involved in flames when they arrived. They estimated the damage at $45,000.

Gilles was arrested in Miami and was being brought to Lake County on Friday.

lritchie@tribune.com