‘Uncle Tuna’ set pole barn on fire in Manhattan: records

Fire caused about $300,000 in damage to the barn and its contents, police said

A Manhattan man was charged with setting a pole barn on fire and causing roughly $300,000 in damage to the structure that belongs to a couple with whom he was once friends, according to police.

On Friday, Anthony Dvorak, 35, of the 28200 block of South Walsh Road surrendered to the Frankfort Police Department on felony charges of arson and criminal damage to property in connection with the Nov. 8 incident.

The barn belonged to couple living on West Pauling Road, and the wife petitioned for a protective order against Dvorak because he was suspected of setting the barn on fire.

“He was a good friend of the family and my children called him Uncle Tuna,” the woman’s petition said.

The woman’s petition said she feared Dvorak would “come back to the house and light it on fire” and that her children are “traumatized to vary degrees.”

The Will County Sheriff’s Office investigated the incident, which was reported about 11 p.m. Nov. 8, a sheriff’s office news release said. When deputies arrived at the scene of the barn fire, Manhattan and Peotone firefighters were already extinguishing it.

Deputies interviewed the homeowners, who said that shortly after witnessing the barn fire, they received text alerts about a power outage caused by an accident, police said.

The homeowners said they then received Facebook photos from neighbors about a Chevy Silverado that struck a utility pole.

“The couple believed they recognized the vehicle as belonging to Dvorak. They stated to deputies that they had recently had a falling out with Dvorak, had previous issues with him, and had cut ties with him regarding their friendship,” police said.

On the same evening, deputies responded to a Chevy Silverado striking a utility pole in the 9500 block of Pauling Road and identified Dvorak as the driver, police said.

Witnesses near the scene of the crash told deputies they saw the Dvorak with struggling to walk away from the crash, police said. They also said they saw he had no shoes and burns on his feet.

Dvorak was hospitalized for severe burns to both feet, facial bruising, a fractured nose and a cut above his eye. He was charged with driving under the influence, police said.

Dvorak’s vehicle was towed and deputies found a handheld torch with a small lighter inside it, police said.

On Nov. 9, sheriff’s detectives worked on the investigation of the incident with the Manhattan Fire Department, Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office and K-9 handler who had a dog named Phantom, police said.

Sheriff spokeswoman Kathy Hoffmeyer said the state fire marshal’s office determined the fire was ignited with a flammable or combustible substance that had an odor similar to gasoline.

Following the investigation, Judge Art Smigielski signed a $250,000 warrant for Dvorak’s arrest.

Felix Sarver

Felix Sarver covers crime and courts for The Herald-News