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Torrington man charged with hate crime after setting fire to SUV

Police said he was charged with a hate crime and arson.

TORRINGTON, Conn. — Torrington police arrested a man who they said set his neighbor's SUV on fire because he said he disliked the neighbor's Mormon faith. 

Police said they were called to a multi-family home on East Pearl Street just before 3:30 a.m. Monday on a report of a vehicle fire. 

When they arrived, they were told by a witness that lived in the residence they saw someone who lives there start a fire by the gas tank of a 2022 Chevrolet Equinox. 

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Officers determined that 22-year-old Samuel Vandeusen was a suspect in the case. When speaking with police, he said that he had started the fire because "he didn't like or agree" with the SUV's owner because, "he dislikes the Mormon faith," according to police. 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the incident. “Americans of all faiths should be free to share their faith without fear of intimidation or attack,” said CAIR-CT Chairman Farhan Memon. “We condemn this alleged bias-motivated attack and urge community leaders to speak out against the type of bigotry that inevitably leads to such incidents.”

Torrington neighbor Mike Pickert told FOX61 he saw the suspect trying to light the car on fire early Monday morning as he was getting ready for work around 3:00 a.m.

“When I looked out the window, I saw somebody putting a lit rag in the gas tank," he said. "It really caught fire quickly.”

“There’s no reason for this. There’s just no reason for it. Everyone gets along,” Mike Pickert, witness.

Police said the car belonged to one of Vandeusen’s two downstairs apartment neighbors who are missionaries and the car was owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Neighbors expressed concern after hearing of what happened.

“I was totally shocked. I didn’t see that coming," neighbor Cheryl Arroyo said. "It’s just scary.”

According to a police report, Vandeusen said he wanted to blow up the car because they are Mormons and he is tired of them knocking on doors and trying to convert his family and friends, allegedly referring to it as a “crime of passion.”

Police say they found lighters in his front pocket during a search.

“They’re real nice guys. They come around the neighborhood and they talk to people. They’re real nice and I don’t know what the problem was with the guy in the third floor, but he hated them," Pickert said.

Vandeusen was charged with deprivation of rights, arson 3rd degree, criminal mischief 1st degree and breach of peace 2nd degree. Deprivation of rights is considered a hate crime, police said.

Vanduesen was held on a $250,000 surety bond and is expected to appear at the Torrington Superior Court on Monday. 

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Elisha Machado is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at emachado@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Doug Stewart is a digital content producer at FOX61 News. He can be reached at dstewart@fox61.com.

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