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Tire Store Fire May be Tied to Former Owner’s Murder

Fire Officials in Fort Myers are investigating whether or not a Dec. 24 fire that caused some $300,000 in damage to Leal’s Tires & Wheels is related to the murder of former owner Epimenio “Epi” Leal.

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The store, located at 2030 Ortiz Ave., was destroyed in the blaze, which started at about 9:30 p.m. in the back outside portion of the building where tires were stored. The fire was out by 11:30 p.m. The building was empty, and no one was hurt.

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The State Fire Marshal’s Office believes the cause of the fire is suspicious, since it happened roughly eight months after 49-year-old Leal was shot and killed in a botched robbery at his home. His son, Epi Leal Jr., has been running the store since.

Five men face charges related to Leal’s death, including two who face the death penalty in the case. Leal’s relatives say they have been threatened since the men were charged, leading investigators to consider revenge as a motive for the fire.

The blaze also caused $25,000 of damage to Zapata Paint & Body, a store behind the tire shop, and destroyed one car and damaged a couple others. About 15 relatives lost their jobs at the store.

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Family members said they hope customers will go the store’s other Fort Myers location at 4020 Palm Beach Blvd. (Tire Review/Akron)

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