Young Black woman suffered second-degree and third-degree burns after she was sprayed with lighter fluid and set on fire in horror attack at a stop light on Wednesday
Althea Bernstein, 18, an EMT, was sitting in her car at a stoplight on her way to her brother’s house in Madison, Wisconsin, at 1am on Wednesday, when a car stopped beside her
She heard someone yell aloud ‘n****r’ and, when she looked around, she saw four white men in the vehicle
One man allegedly used a spray bottle to spray lighter fluid on her neck and then set her on fire with a lighter
Bernstein was treated at UW Hospital emergency department for second- and third-degree burns
Bernstein described the four white men as ‘classic Wisconsin frat boys.’ – Two were allegedly wearing all black, and the other two were wearing jeans and floral shirts
Police are now investigating the attack as a hate crime and are looking at surveillance footage to see if it was caught on camera
‘Burn pain is something I can’t even really describe. I don’t know how to describe it. It was horrible’: One man allegedly used a spray bottle to spray lighter fluid on Bernstein’s neck and then set her on fire with a lighter, causing second-degree and third-degree burns on her neck and face [photo]
Bernstein described the four white men to Madison365 as ‘classic Wisconsin frat boys.’
Two were allegedly wearing all black, and the other two were wearing jeans and floral shirts.
Over the last month, groups of far-right counter-protesters wearing Hawaiian shirts have disrupted Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
“I was listening to some music at a stoplight and then all of a sudden I heard someone yell the N-word really loud,” she told Madison365, a local non-profit media group.
“I turned my head to look and somebody’s throwing lighter fluid on me. And then they threw a lighter at me, and my neck caught on fire and I tried to put it out, but I brushed it up onto my face.”
Bernstein believes all four men were intoxicated during the incident.
She said she pulled forward, put out the flames and drove home where her mother encouraged her to go to the UW Hospital emergency department.
Bernstein was treated for second-degree and third-degree burns. She was put through a decontamination routine to get the lighter fluid off her skin because it was continuing to burn her., she said.
‘They had to pretty much scrub the skin off, which was extremely painful,’ she said.
‘Burn pain is something I can’t even really describe. I don’t know how to describe it. It was horrible.’
The young victim will need to repeat the procedure every few days and, once she heals, will have to undergo plastic surgery to repair the damage.
Police say they are looking at surveillance footage to see if any part of the attack was captured on camera.
Bernstein said her happy childhood memories of growing up in Madison have been overshadowed by the memories of this attack.
‘I never really knew someone could hate you just by looking at you,’ she said.
‘They didn’t know me. I didn’t know them. I was just driving my car and minding my own business.’
The arson attack on Althea Bernstein [photo], has been classified as a hate crime. Police are reviewing surveillance footage to see if it was caught on camera
In spite of all this, she told Madison365 that she’s glad the men didn’t attack someone more vulnerable,
‘I’m glad it was me, and not someone like a pregnant woman, or a child, or someone who doesn’t have the health care that I do or the support system that I do,’ Bernstein said.
The assault came amid a night of violence on Tuesday that included the toppling of two statues outside the Capitol and an attack on a state senator.
A group of 200 to 300 people protested the arrest of a Black man after he shouted at restaurant customers through a megaphone while carrying a baseball bat.
Someone also threw a Molotov cocktail into a government building and attempted to break into the Capitol, only to be repelled by pepper spray from police stationed inside.
The violence prompted Gov Tony Evers to activate the National Guard to protect state properties.
On Wednesday night, about 40 people gathered peacefully outside the county jail where the man was being held, calling for his release. A crowd of about 100 people congregated outside the Capitol.
The president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dane County, Michael Johnson, released a statement on behalf of Bernstein’s family stating that they were “saddened at what happened to Althea and the unprovoked attack on her body. At this time, our family is asking everyone to respect our privacy as Althea is recovering from the burns on her face and neck.”