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Body found inside burning car in Anaheim

April 5, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Firefighters putting out a car fire found a body inside the burning vehicle in Anaheim early Friday morning.

Crews arrived on scene at about 3 a.m. after getting calls about an explosion and fire in the 100 block of Westchester Drive.

According to family, the victim was 23-year-old Shimon Phal. Police said they could not confirm the name until an autopsy was completed. The family said Phal was a student at Southwest College and was studying criminal justice.

Neighbors say they heard a series of explosions before the flames broke out.

"It was a loud bang, like an explosion from the car when it first happened. Then, I came out here. I heard the dude in the car, and it sounded like he was stuck on the ignition, trying to start it," described Kaytin Dossey, an area resident. "Then there were a couple more booms, then the fire turned green. I think it was from the gas from the car or something."

The driver may have been trapped in the vehicle. Firefighters had to use a metal cutting saw to pry open the door. Witnesses could hear the screams as flames engulfed the car.

"As soon as I saw that, I grabbed my phone and called 911. I went back out there, just watching this guy for about 8 minutes, still moving," said Hunter McClellan, a witness.

Arson investigators will determine what caused the fire, and police are not ruling out foul play. However, this may have also been a tragic accident.

One theory police are looking at is a scenario neighbors told them - that the victim had been in a car accident, had parked the car in the neighborhood, came back hours later to try and start the vehicle, and that's when the fire started.

"That very well may be. We have not ruled that out, but we certainly haven't ruled out the fact that another person could have been involved. So until we can rule that out, we're going to keep treating this as a death investigation and potentially a homicide," said Sgt. Bob Dunn with Anaheim police.

Dunn said investigators found front-end damage on the white compact car consistent with a collision. He said authorities are checking with surrounding law enforcement agencies to see if anyone reported crashes overnight.

If you have any information about this incident, you're urged to contact Orange County Crime Stoppers at (855) TIP-OCCS or (855) 847-6227.

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