Assault on 18-year-old biracial woman in Wisconsin being investigated as hate crime
Four white men allegedly set a biracial woman on fire after spraying her with lighter fluid in a possible hate-crime attack in Madison, Wisconsin, on Wednesday morning, a report said Friday.
The woman, 18-year-old Althea Bernstein, told police she was driving with her window down near the Wisconsin state Capitol at about 1 a.m. when she stopped at a red light and heard a man call her a racial epithet, a local ABC affiliate reported.
One of the men then sprayed her with liquid — which police believe was lighter fluid — and threw a flaming lighter at her, according to the report.
She drove away from the men and was able to put the flames out, the report said. She then drove home, where her mother encouraged her to go to the hospital.
At the hospital, she was treated for burns and will need to make follow-up visits for additional medical care, authorities said. Hospital staff, according to police, believe the liquid was lighter fluid.
Bernstein told “Good Morning America” Friday she “never thought something like this would happen.”
Bernstein said she was on her way to her brother’s house when the incident occurred.
She said she went through “textbook shock” and hasn’t been able to sleep properly.
Police are working on obtaining permission to access Bernstein’s hospital records, according to Madison police spokesperson Joel DeSpain. Investigators are also looking at surveillance images to see if the incident was captured on camera.
“Our department believes victims, and we take their statement and then thoroughly investigate what they said happened to them,” DeSpain told CNN Friday. “We believe this victim, and we are going to work with her and review all the video we can find.”
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway released a statement saying the incident was “a horrifying and absolutely unacceptable crime that I will not tolerate in Madison.”
“While we are still learning more about the details, current information suggests this may have been a premeditated crime targeted toward people of color, which makes the incident even more disturbing,” Rhodes-Conway said. “I immediately reached out to the police when I learned of the incident, asking them to use all available resources to pursue the perpetrators as quickly as possible.”