W. Manchester Twp. man gets prison in car arson

A West Manchester Township man was sentenced to prison for his role in torching a Dodge Charger in Paradise Township almost two years ago, according to court records.

Those records indicate that Zukael Tony Stephens, 40, pleaded guilty to criminal mischief on Thursday, June 21, and that his charges of arson and conspiracy to commit arson were dismissed.

Zukael Stephens

Stephens was sentenced to 1½ to three years in prison, with credit for the 268 days he spent in prison.

Northern York County Regional Police say Stephens worked with his brother, Robert Dupree Harrison, 37, to burn Harrison's car on July 21, 2016.

Harrison is charged with arson and conspiracy to commit arson. His case remains active.

Stephens' probation officer told investigators that the man's birth name was Stephen Harrison, but he changed it, documents state.

Stephens' public defender, Valerie Potell, did not return a message seeking comment.

However, when charges were filed early last year, Stephens told The York Dispatch that there was nothing for him to comment about.

"I don't know why they're bringing me in and questioning me about something that has to do with my brother," he said of investigators.

Police said they were called to West Canal Road near the corner of East Berlin Road in Paradise Township about 2 a.m. July 21, 2016, and found the charred remains of the Charger. No one was inside, and it didn't appear the car had been involved in a crash, police said.

Investigators determined some sort of accelerant was poured inside the car, which was deliberately lit on fire and left to burn.

More:Police: Charger exploded after being stolen, torched

More:Police: York man torched doors of Lancaster City Hall

More:York City Police search for arson suspect

Car exploded: Fumes built up inside and caused an explosion that bent all four car doors outward and blew out the rear window, which landed about 30 feet away, according to charging documents.

After the fire was extinguished, the car's license plate was found by a tow-truck operator who was picking up bits of burned plastic from the road, police said. The plate led police to Harrison.

Harrison told officers he last saw his car when he parked it in Fairfax, Virginia, before going on vacation, documents state.

He told officers that at 1 p.m. July 20, 2016, — about 13 hours before the arson — the key fob of his two-way security and remote-start system notified him his car was unlocked, so he had a friend check on the car, which was gone, police said.

He wouldn't give police the name of that friend, and he was "reluctant to give any information on his employment status, stating that he was a diplomatic agent for a royal family," documents state.

Harrison insisted he had both sets of keys to the car and had "no clue" who would have stolen it, according to police.

Phone records: Cellphone records show Harrison was in North Carolina at the time his car was torched, but that he and Stephens were in cellphone contact at that time, charging documents state.

Stephens' cellphone was just a half-mile away from Harrison's car in Fairfax when the car was stolen, and his phone also was near the car in Paradise Township about the time it was set afire, according to police.

Police said they were able to chip away at Harrison's story. He told them he pays his bills on time, but he has numerous civil judgments against him, documents state, and he also owed $24,000 on the Charger.

Too far for alert? Harrison told officers that while on vacation in North Carolina, he was alerted by his key fob that his car was unlocked, but investigators determined his system will only work at distances up to a mile, documents state.

"Harrison was over 290 miles away from his vehicle, making it impossible to get an alert on his key fob that the car was unlocked," Detective Bill Haller, the lead investigator, wrote in charging documents.

Also, a factory key is required to operate the car, and Harrison repeatedly said both sets of keys were still in his possession, police allege.

"Evidence shows that Zukael Stephens' phone was tracked from Virginia, where the car was stolen, to Pennsylvania, where it was lit on fire, and that Stephens was in contact with his brother when the car was stolen and when it was lit on fire," Haller wrote.

Other charges: Stephens was also charged with possession with intent to deliver drugs, as well as criminal use of a communications facility.

The charges were filed by York City Police. 

Stephens pleaded guilty to criminal use of a communications facility, and his drug charge was dismissed, online court records indicate.

In that case he was sentenced to 1½ to three years in prison, which will run concurrently with his arson case.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.