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Man accused of storming ex-wife's home and setting fire to three houses eludes police chase

Man accused of storming ex-wife's home and setting fire to three houses eludes police chase
Police are searching for Matthew Rice, 37. He is accused of trying to set three homes on fire in the Inland Empire. (Fontana Police Department)

Police are searching for a man who allegedly broke into his estranged wife’s home with a shotgun on Tuesday, tried to set three Inland Empire homes on fire on Wednesday, then evaded police in Santa Barbara during a car pursuit Thursday morning, authorities said.

Police said the problems began Tuesday night when Matthew Rice, armed with a shotgun, kicked in the rear sliding glass door at the home of his estranged wife in the 8000 block of Jamestown Circle in Fontana.

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Rice’s wife and a male friend who was with her were able to disarm him in “a violent struggle,” in which the wife suffered multiple broken bones, Fontana police Sgt. Darren Robbins said.

The next afternoon, Rice tried to set three homes on fire — his mother- and father-in-law’s residence in the 8900 block of Orange Street in Rancho Cucamonga, his estranged wife’s home and the home of the wife’s friend in the 7900 block of Amanda Street in Fontana, Robbins said.

Rice also stole his wife’s car, a white Chevy Cruise with the license plate HGK307, he said.

Sprinklers in the wife’s house put out the fire, but there was extensive water damage to the two-story home, Robbins said.

“When we got up there there was water coming out of the garage, there was smoke, smell of methane gas, gasoline,” he said.

Rice had attempted to light the front door on fire” at his wife’s friend’s home, Robbins said.

At the Rancho Cucamonga home, “firefighters were able to contain the fire to the garage so there was no extension into the house,” said Rancho Cucamonga Fire District spokeswoman Kelley Donaldson.

Rice is described as 37 years old, 5-feet-8 and 160 pounds with a scruffy beard, Robbins said.

He was most recently living in Santa Barbara, and authorities in the county engaged in a car pursuit with him early Thursday morning but he got away, Robbins said.

Police recovered the shotgun from the wife’s home, but do not know if Rice is armed, Robbins said.

“We are supporting Fontana Police Department in an investigation of a crime that happened in the city of Fontana,” said Santa Barbara police spokesman Anthony Wagner.

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