Federal Arson Charges for Driver Accused of Tossing Molotov Cocktail at Cops

After running a red light in Brooklyn, police said the driver fled from police and hurled a Molotov cocktail at a police vehicle before he was ultimately taken into custody

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What to Know

  • A Bridgeport man accused of hurling a lit Molotov cocktail at police in Brooklyn on Saturday morning faces federal arson charges, officials said
  • Law enforcement sources identified Lionel Virgile as the driver, who is set to make a virtual appearance in federal court on Monday where the charges will be made
  • Four Molotov cocktails were recovered in total; sources say officials are investigating whether the incident was a planned attack against officers

A traffic stop in Brooklyn turned violent Saturday morning when a driver pulled over for running a red light hurled a Molotov cocktail at police, the New York Police Department said.

That man will now face federal arson charges that could potentially land him in prison for as long as 40 years.

Law enforcement sources identified Lionel Virgile as the driver accused of evading police twice and throwing potentially harmful substances at several officers in East Flatbush. He's was being held in federal custody on Sunday and is scheduled to make a virtual appearance in federal court on Monday.

The 44-year-old Bridgeport, Connecticut, man was driving through the borough when he blew through a red light, catching the attention of police officers.

Two officers pulled Virgile over just before 8 a.m. Saturday after he ran the light, police said. Video posted by the NYPD hours later on Twitter appears to show body camera footage of the stop and the moment the accused driver tossed a liquid onto one of the officers.

In the video, two officers approach the Lincoln Town Car on each side and begin talking to the driver through his door window when he opens the door and throws a liquid, hitting the officer near the driver's side door.

The video ends, and that's when police said Virgile drove off. A second team of officers in the area spotted the Lincoln a short distance from the traffic stop and pulled it over.

Police said Virgile stepped out of his vehicle at the second traffic stop and threw a lit Molotov cocktail at their vehicle. It allegedly bounced off the windshield and shattered in the street.

The man hopped back into to his vehicle and fled from police for a second time, they said. Moments later he collided with an unoccupied parked SUV on Snyder Avenue.

Officers caught up to the man and removed him from the vehicle, taking him into custody. Three other Molotov cocktails were recovered from inside the driver's vehicle, police said.

One officer sustained minor injuries during the incident and was taken to a nearby hospital.

According to the sources, the driver waited to run the red light until the police car pulled up. Investigators believe this may have been a deliberate act to lure police.

Spokespeople for the NYPD and FBI did not comment on the accusations the attack was planned, and referred News 4 to the U.S. attorney. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York did not immediately return a call for comment.

As of Saturday night, police were also waiting on a federal search warrant for the suspect's vehicle. There are unknown writings and drawings on the ceiling of the vehicle, the sources said.

Virgile is due in court later Sunday on the federal arson charge. The statute carries penalties of 7 to 40 years in prison if anyone is injured in the course of the prohibited conduct.

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