A Barrington woman accused of using a flamethrower to torch her SUV in November told police she bought the device as a gift for her father and was assembling it when it accidentally went off, according to police documents obtained by the Daily Herald.
The reports obtained through an open record request shed additional light on the arrest of Julie Gagne on arson, disorderly conduct and filing a false report charges stemming from the Nov. 10 fire and subsequent claim that the vehicle had been stolen.
Gagne, 47, of the 500 block of South Summit Street, garnered national attention after the torching of her 2016 Infiniti QX70, but defense attorney Sam Amirante said he expects her to be exonerated, possibly even before the unusual case goes to trial.
He described Gagne as a good woman with no criminal history.
"I will tell you she is very personally upset over the whole matter," Amirante said. "And very upset, very scared over the whole matter. She's not at all familiar with the criminal justice system, and I think she's just really a victim of some really strange circumstances."
Barrington police said Gagne used the flamethrower to set her SUV ablaze about 10:30 p.m. Nov. 10 in an office center parking lot on the 1500 block of South Grove Avenue, near Dundee Road. The Infiniti SUV, which has a sticker price of about $48,000, was registered in her name, police said.
An investigation found Gagne used an X15 Flamethrower manufactured by Ohio-based XMatter to torch the SUV, according to police. They said the $1,600 device -- purchased online and legal to own in Illinois -- uses a mix of about 3 gallons of fuel and napalm to throw flames as far as 50 feet.
Gagne told investigators she drove into the lot across the street from Barrington's post office because she wanted to assemble the flamethrower and have it ready to present to her father the next day, according to police reports. She reportedly told police "a freak accident" occurred when the device set her SUV on fire.
"When I asked why she thought her (70-year-old) father would want a flamethrower, she stated, 'I thought he would get a kick out of it,'" Barrington police Detective Lori Allsteadt wrote in a report.
Documents say Gagne unsuccessfully tried to use a portable fire extinguisher on the flaming SUV. Seeing the fire was out of control, she ran south to Dundee Road and called a friend for a ride to a Schaumburg bar, according to police documents.
"She said that she freaked out and then left the scene and made a stolen auto report out with Schaumburg police because she didn't know what else to do," wrote Allsteadt.
Police said they found two gasoline canisters near the 2016 Infiniti QX70 in the office parking lot, along with the flamethrower near a garbage bin enclosure.
Reports list several other items collected at the scene, including napalm fuel-mix thickener, a CO2 canister, black duct tape, propane, wipes that remove gasoline odor from skin, a charred mobile device and a black drawstring bag containing an envelope with flamethrower operating instructions.
Firefighters specializing in hazardous materials collected the items found in the lot, officials said.
"That's the kind of thing that requires some technical capability to do it and do it right," Barrington Fire Chief James Arie said.
Cook County sheriff's office evidence technicians who assisted Barrington authorities found a vehicle identification number printed in the SUV's frame, and it was traced to Gagne. She turned herself in to Schaumburg police Nov. 21.
XMatter's X15 model personal flamethrower typically is used for controlled burns, weed incineration and pyrotechnic events.
Gagne said a friend in Barrington used his credit card to buy the $1,600 flamethrower for her because she was unable to charge it on her account, according to police.
Torched: SUV owner got ride to Schaumburg bar, police say