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Deputies: Man critically burned trying to set estranged wife ablaze

Jason Brando of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office bags evidence Monday at the Countrywood Apartments in Carrollwood. Neighbors reported hearing screams and seeing a man on fire. “It was instantaneous,” said neighbor Amy Jo Akert. “He just lit on fire. I don’t even understand how.” 

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Jason Brando of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office bags evidence Monday at the Countrywood Apartments in Carrollwood. Neighbors reported hearing screams and seeing a man on fire. “It was instantaneous,” said neighbor Amy Jo Akert. “He just lit on fire. I don’t even understand how.” 

CARROLLWOOD — No one knows how long he sat inside the green rental car and waited.

Authorities say Matthew Wong, 50, watched the door of his wife's apartment early Monday, waiting for her to step outside.

Thick, black garbage bags shrouded the backseat windows. A quilt covered the rear window.

"It appears it was all planned," said Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokesman Larry McKinnon. "He was waiting out there to ambush her."

What Wong hadn't planned on, deputies said, was getting caught in the flames that he had hoped would kill his wife, Gloria Davis, 47.

After residents of the Countrywood Apartments, 12401 Orange Grove Drive, helped extinguish the fire, Wong was taken to Tampa General Hospital just after 7 a.m. in critical condition, with third-degree burns over his upper body, McKinnon said.

The episode was still under investigation, and no charges had been filed Monday.

Davis was unharmed.

Wong's motives for attacking his wife were not immediately clear, McKinnon said.

The two have been separated since October, when Davis moved out of their Wesley Chapel home and into the Countrywood Apartments. Family members declined to comment.

Deputies would later discover a 21/2-gallon jug of gasoline in Wong's trunk, tape, a pair of gloves and bleach bottles believed to have been filled with an accelerant.

As Wong chased Davis across the apartment complex's front lawn, he pulled a Bic lighter from his pocket, officials said. Davis escaped by ducking into a neighbor's apartment, McKinnon said.

That's when Wong began setting bushes and grass on fire in an attempt to "smoke her out," McKinnon said.

In the process, Wong set himself on fire.

Amy Jo Akert, a 35-year-old dance teacher who lives across the street, said she woke up when she heard yelling and arguing. She didn't think much of it at first, since she lives near a school bus stop, but then, she said, she heard what sounded like a woman screaming "Help me! Help me!"

Akert said she looked across the street and saw a man standing on the ground and someone running upstairs. Someone screamed, "I'm going to kill you!" and suddenly, the man burst into flames.

"It was instantaneous," Akert said. "He just lit on fire. I don't even understand how."

Cristie Gibbons, 26, also called 911.

Gibbons, who lives on the ground floor of Davis' building, said she went to her bedroom window when she heard screams coming from outside.

"The bushes were on fire. The mulch was on fire, the grass, everything," she said. "I thought my apartment was going to burn down."

She called 911 as her husband, Aurelio Loza, 44, ran outside with a blanket.

"I saw the flames, but, at first, I didn't see the man," he said. "Once I did, I just grabbed the blanket and ran."

Loza was met by a man from across the street. Together, the two snuffed out the flames that engulfed Wong as he rolled on the grass.

Wong and Davis were married in 1985, records show, and have two sons, ages 25 and 18.

Wong was arrested on charges of domestic battery in 2000, but the case was later dismissed, according to court records.

Pasco County deputies most recently responded to the couple's Cross Creek Lane home in November 2010, but no arrests were made.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Contact Marissa Lang at mlang@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386.

Deputies: Man critically burned trying to set estranged wife ablaze 02/06/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 6, 2012 11:21pm]
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