GASTONIA, N.C. – Gastonia Police have identified the man they say is responsible for the fiery crash at a gas station in Gastonia on Monday.
Police are still trying to determine what caused the driver, now identified as Anthony Dion Thompson, to run into a gas pump, igniting the fire.
The incident happened Monday afternoon at the Kingsway CITGO on Bessemer City Road.
Julie Norville tells NBC Charlotte she had just paid for gas inside the store. As she walked out, she witnessed someone backing into her car. Within seconds, she saw flames emerge.
"It was so fast. It was like watching a movie the way it happened," says Norville.
Gastonia Police say Thompson was a frequent customer, and lives nearby. Store surveillance camera even captured him pulling into the store earlier that day.
What surprised Norville was his behavior afterward setting the fire. She says he casually retrieved the assault rifle from his car before leaving the scene.
"I don't think it bothered him one bit. He was smiling the whole time. He just got it and took off. The flames shot out
a couple of times, flared up, and he just popped that trunk and got that out, and jogged away," she said.
He is facing charges of "hit and run by property", and one count of being "armed to the terror of the public".
Police are urging Thompson to turn himself in.
"A Normal person would not have fled the scene, therefore we don't know what he was going to do," says Sgt. Jimmy Arndt.
Thankfully the gas line was shut off in time, and the fire was kept under control.
The gas station owner says the safety valve prevented the bulk of the gas from making contact with the flames. He believes about two gallons burned, much of it lodged in the gas lines.
He estimates more than $10,000 in damages, and that would not cover installation cost and loss of business.