People could have died in an explosion if he’d set the gas pump on fire, police said

The man wanted cigarettes.

When he was denied them at a Tacoma convenience store Wednesday, he tried to set the gas pump outside on fire, charging papers allege.

Multiple people would have died if he’d successfully set the fire and caused an explosion, police said.

The 32-year-old man, who reportedly told police he was suffering from mental illness and addiction, was charged with first-degree attempted arson and felony harassment Thursday.

Charging papers give this account of what happened:

The man asked for cigarettes about 3 p.m. at the store in the 8200 block of South Hosmer Street. The manager asked if the man had money to pay for the smokes, at which point the man screamed and said he was going to fight the manager outside.

“The defendant then said that if he did not get his cigarettes, he was going to blow up the gas station and kill everyone,” the declaration for determination of probable cause said. “When (the manager) still refused to give the defendant cigarettes, the defendant went outside to the gas pumps located on the west side of the building, laid one of the gas hoses on the ground, squatted down next to the hose and lit a lighter. “

The manager said the man tried to light the hose but was unsuccessful.

As the manager contacted police, the man walked away.

Officers found him nearby. He took an “aggressive stance” and used profanity at them, the probable cause statement said.

An officer showed the man the spark of his stun gun to get him to cooperate, and they were able to detain him.

They found a lighter in his hand.

“The defendant refused to say whether he understood his rights but said that he represented himself and he was advising himself not to say anything,” the probable cause statement said.

He told police he suffered from drug addiction and mental illness.

The gas station is in a busy area at that time of day, and one of the officers reported: “if the defendant had been successful in lighting the gas pump on fire, any resulting explosion would have caused numerous casualties,” the charging papers said.

Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.