Suspected arsonist tries to set himself on fire after police chase

by: Ken Lemon Updated:

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. - Authorities in Gaston County arrested a man who they said tried to set himself on fire following a police chase which ended in Gastonia overnight.

[IMAGES: Man sets car on fire after police chase in Gastonia]

Gaston County police told Channel 9 that around 2 a.m. they spotted a car wanted in connection with a previous arson in Dallas on Wednesday.

Police said 26-year-old Christopher Watkins burned a mobile home on Landau Circle Wednesday. After police responded to the fire, officers said Watkins led them on a five-mile chase Thursday morning and then stopped in the middle of Bessemer City Road near Ross Road.

That's when deputies said he set the inside of his car on fire and doused himself in flammable liquid.


(Christopher Watkins)

Officers were able to tackle him before he caught fire, and took him into custody.

“I’ve been here 17 years. I have never heard anything like this,” said Gaston County police Sgt. J.T. Avery. “It’s very unusual, very scary.”

Police said Watkins' spouse collected belongings and the children and left the home before it was set on fire.

Some neighbors said they saw Watkins Wednesday outside of his home having an argument with his wife.

Neighbors said he was angry at his wife and he told her he was going to burn their home.

"Next thing I know, the whole place is on fire," neighbor Ronald Lynch said.

Watkins is charged with fraudulent burning of a dwelling home, burning personal property and felony flee to elude. He is in custody on a $500,000 secured bond.

"Everything I done, I done for a reason," Watkins said. "I burnt my house down because that's just material things."

Prosecutors called Watkins a dangerous man that seemed to have a death wish for himself and his family.

"He communicated with (the Department of Social Services) this morning and indicated with them that when he gets out of custody, he plans to go and kill his wife and children," prosecutor Debbie Gulledge said.

Prosecutors called Watkins a dangerous man that seemed to have a death wish for himself and his family.

"He communicated with (the Department of Social Services) this morning and indicated with them that when he gets out of custody, he plans to go and kill his wife and children," prosecutor Debbie Gulledge said.

 The judge ordered a psychological assessment for Watkins.

"I don't need it," Watkins told the judge

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