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Fatal auto shop explosion was arson, Tampa police say

TAMPA — Jacob Auto Repair exploded in the midnight hour Feb. 6 with a force that shook the surrounding houses. Neighbors ran outside and saw fire in the sky and went closer and saw Freddy's car outside the shop and wondered where he was.

Freddy was inside.

Freddy was a nickname for Farid Karakra, an auto mechanic from a small town in the West Bank. His wedding was scheduled for June. He was 22 years old.

The full story behind his death is unavailable to the public, and perhaps to everyone except for him. But investigators released information Friday that boiled down to this:

Someone set the fire on purpose.

And that someone was Karakra.

Findings from the Tampa arson task force indicate that he returned to the business after closing time, entered through a back door and died in an explosion caused by gasoline vapors.

Laboratory results support this conclusion, according to Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Bill Wade. Clothing and tissue samples from Karakra contained gasoline.

Missing from the official theory were answers to these questions:

How?

Why?

"No motive for this fire has been determined," Wade's news release said. "Exactly what sparked the gasoline explosion has not been determined. Damage at the building is consistent with a gasoline vapor explosion. Karakra is the only person known to be involved with this arson."

Jacob Auto Repair was on Busch Boulevard, attached to a Citgo station west of Chamberlain High School. On Friday, it was a mass of wreckage that smelled like a chimney. Amid the scattered concrete and rusted I-beams were a shoe, a pizza box and a pack of Seven Stars cigarettes.

"Damn," said Terry Foster, 53, who does odd jobs at the Citgo station. "That had to be a hell of an inferno."

Rumor and doubt ran through the neighborhood. Two women said they were convinced someone else was involved in Karakra's death, but said they had been told not to give interviews.

"Did he build a bomb?" asked another woman, Joan Mead, 78. "Is that what it was?" (Wade said investigators found no evidence of explosives.)

"He was a really sweet guy," said Patricia Bowley, 68. "Soft spoken." She was sitting on her front porch with cup of coffee and a pack of Mistys cigarettes. "I still find the whole thing to be incomprehensible," she said, and shook her head.

Down the street, Steve Stahberger stood by a bed of red geraniums.

"I doubt anybody will ever know the truth," he said as drums reverberated from the high school.

Jacob Auto Repair was owned by Yazid Yousef, Karakra's brother-in-law, who lives in New Tampa. When a reporter knocked on his door Friday, a woman answered. She wore yellow rubber gloves and there was a small boy with her. She said she did not speak English but she dialed Yousef on a cell phone and handed it over.

"I really don't know what to say," Yousef said.

Neither, it seemed, did anyone else.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3416.

>>Fast facts

How to help

Anyone with information about this fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766. Rewards are available.

Fatal auto shop explosion was arson, Tampa police say 04/04/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 4, 2008 11:57pm]
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