An 18-year-old Black woman, Althea Bernstein, has suffered second and third-degree burns after four white men attacked her with lighter fluid and lighter.
The white men yelled racial slurs at Bernstein before dastardly throwing lighter fluid and lighter through her open car window while she drove in downtown Madison.
The Madison Police Department is investigating the assault on Bernstein, who is bi-racial, as “a hate crime” after she was burned with lighter fluid early Wednesday morning.
More about this
According to a police incident report, Bernstein was driving on W. Gorham St. when she stopped for a red light at State St. Her driver’s side window was down and she heard someone yell out a racial epithet.
When she looked, she saw four men, all white. One of them used a spray bottle to deploy a liquid on her face and neck and then threw a flaming lighter at her, causing the liquid to ignite.
“Bernstein drove forward, patted out the flames, and eventually drove home,” said the incident report.
Bernstein was treated for burns and will need to make follow-up visits to access additional medical care as investigators are looking at surveillance images to see if any of the assault was captured on camera.
“I was listening to some music at a stoplight and then all of a sudden I heard someone yell the N-word really loud,” Bernstein, who works as an EMT while studying to be a paramedic and firefighter, told Madison 365.
“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. I got it out and then I just blasted through the red light… I just felt like I needed to get away. So I drove through the red light and just kept driving until I got to my brother’s [home].”
Police are urging anyone with information about the attack or Bernstein’s assailants to contact Madison Area Crime Stoppers at (608) 266-6014 or at P3Tips.com.
“At first I didn’t even believe what had happened. I grew up in Madison, on the East side, and my dad would take me to the Farmer’s Market every weekend, on those same streets,” she said. It just felt so weird to have these really happy memories there, and then now to have this memory that sort of ruined all of the childhood memories.”
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway condemned the ghastly attack on Bernstein in a statement saying: “Current information suggests this may have been a premeditated crime targeted toward people of color, which makes the incident even more disturbing.”