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Thomas Lopez Jr. sought in fiery attack inside sandwich shop in Reading

By Ryan Hughes, Reporter, RHughes@wfmz.com
Published On: Jul 26 2013 04:11:33 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 26 2013 05:56:13 PM CDT

Police have made a major break in a case of a man being set on fire in Reading nearly three months ago.

READING, Pa. -

Police have made a major break in a case of a man being set on fire in Reading nearly three months ago.

Police said they now know who is responsible for attacking a sandwich shop worker in April, and what may have prompted the attack.

An arrest warrant was issued for Thomas Lopez Jr., of the 500 block of South 6th Street in Reading.

"I hope that they can bring that person to justice because anybody that would do a heinous thing like that certainly needs to be dealt with harshly," said Zarinah Akbar, who lives near where the attack happened.

Joel Fontanez ran out of Citi Sub and Grocery at South 10th and Cotton streets as flames shot out from his body. He collapsed in the street and spent nearly two months in a medically induced coma.

When Fontanez was finally was able to speak, he identified Lopez as the man who doused him with gasoline and set him on fire, said investigators.

"It looks like someone who used to come in the store," said Citi Sub owner Balbir Singh, as he looked at the suspect's picture.

According to police, Lopez just broke up with his girlfriend, and she started dating Fontanez. The woman warned Fontanez of possible retaliation, and Lopez was seen yelling threats before the attack outside the store, according to court documents.

"The young man is going to be scarred for life for what, something probably nothing more than a misunderstanding?" said Frances, who lives across from Citi Sub.

Burnt trash and garbage on the floor of the store were signs of Fontanez's struggle. Citi Sub is back open for business, and the store is now equipped with new surveillance cameras.

Singh is just grateful Fontanez survived and is on the road to recovery.

"He's back home doing therapy, and I hope he will be back soon," Singh said.   

Fontanez cannot come out in the sunlight because of his injuries. Fontanez is scared to tell anyone where he is staying because his attacker is still on the loose, said Singh.

Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call Crime Alert Berks County at 877-373-9913. A cash reward of up to $5,000 is being offered for an anonymous tip that leads to his arrest.