TAMPA — Police stopped two men riding bicycles without lights then arrested them on arson charges when they found a Tampa police cruiser burning in a nearby synagogue parking lot.
Matthew Wayne Ethridge, 31, and Jeremy David Penney, 34, were arrested about 1:30 a.m. Monday in connection with the fire outside the Shoresh David Messianic Synagogue of Tampa at 4320 Bay to Bay Blvd W, Tampa police said.
While on patrol, officers spotted the two men riding bicycles without lights and followed them to the area behind a closed business at Manhattan Avenue and Bay to Bay. While speaking with them, the officers smelled smoke in the area.
They found a Tampa police cruiser in the parking lot nearby with the front passenger window smashed out and the front passenger seat engulfed in fire.
Police learned that Ethridge is on probation for arson and possession or use of a hoax bomb.
Ethridge had a cut on his hand that he said he got while looking through a donation box on the synagogue property, police said. Blood was found on the front passenger door of the burned cruiser.Damage to the vehicle was estimated at $3,000.
Ethridge also faces charges of violating probation stemming from previous Hillsborough arrests.
County records show he pleaded guilty to setting fire in June 2016 to two storage buildings at the Temple Terrace Pony Baseball Complex. He was sentenced to a year in the county jail followed by two years of community control and three years of probation, records show. He was also ordered to pay $1,500 in restitution.
At the time of that arrest, Ethridge was already on probation for a 2015 arrest on charges of making a hoax bomb threat and misusing the 911 system. Details about that case were not immediately available Monday.