An emotionally disturbed man set his van on fire in a failed suicide attempt across from St. Anastasia Church in Douglaston last Thursday after an earlier dispute in Glen Oaks, police said.
Charles Gazzola, 58, of Westchester County was only slightly singed in the incident, said Lt. Raymond Spinella of the 111th Precinct.
St. Anastasia crossing guard Nancy Yesiltep called police when she saw Gazzola light a match, put it in the gas tank of his blue van and push the car into a fence across Northern Boulevard at 245th Street.
He was screaming and yelling, Yesiltep said of Gazzola.
The van was engulfed in flames by the time the Fire Department arrived, sending a thick cloud of smoke billowing over Northern Boulevard.
When firefighters arrived, Gazzola got out of his car, pulled a knife and asked for someone to shoot him, Spinella said.
Police arrested Gazzola, put him in a squad car and then an ambulance while firefighters doused the car. Gazzola was taken to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx for burn treatment and psychiatric evaluation, Spinella said.
According to the officer, Gazzola had stuffed suicide notes under the door at St. Anastasia stating that he had chosen Holy Thursday as the day he wanted to die.
He was talking about getting evicted and his father died and his children are invalid, Spinella said.
It was unclear what Gazzola was doing in Queens. Officer Pete Dwyer of the 105th Precinct said Gazzola had been involved in a dispute with another man near a construction site at 72nd Avenue and Commonwealth Boulevard in Glen Oaks before getting in his car and driving to Douglaston.
Dwyer said the man with whom Gazzola had been arguing called police, and that Gazzola had displayed an ax handle during the dispute but no one was injured.
Dwyer said he did not know the nature of the dispute or whether Gazzola had an arrest record.
No one else was injured in the fire across from St. Anastasia, Spinella said. Traffic was backed up both ways on Northern Boulevard, the main artery connecting Douglaston and Bayside, as police cars blocked off the intersection at 245th Street.
The Rev. John Gribbon, a St. Anastasia priest, said the church school had been closed for Holy Thursday so no children were present at the time of the fire.
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.
©2003 Community News Group
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