OAKLAND (KCBS) – A teenage boy suspected of setting another teen on fire aboard an Alameda County Transit bus Monday was charged as an adult and hate crime enhancements added, according to prosecutors.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley and her office filed a criminal complaint in adult court charging aggravated mayhem and felony assault resulting in serious bodily injury against 16-year-old Richard Thomas, with hate crime clauses alleged in both counts.
Thomas is accused of intentionally setting fire to an 18-year-old passenger, Luke “Sasha” Fleischman, while he was riding on an AC Transit bus in Oakland Monday.
According to the probable cause declaration, Thomas told the interviewing office he did it because he was homophobic.
Police said Fleischman was sleeping on the bus, which was traveling near the intersection of MacArthur Boulevard and Ardley Avenue, near Interstate Highway 580, around 5:20 p.m, when his clothes were set on fire.
Officers arriving on the scene found Fleischman suffering from burns to his lower body, and he was transported to the hospital, suffering from severe second-and-third-degree burns.
According to AC Transit officials, at least a dozen people were on board the bus at the time of the incident.
Oakland Police spokeswoman Officer Johnna Watson said surveillance video on the bus shows two male patrons immediately wrestled Fleischman to the floor and help put out the flames. “They were able to get him on the floor of the bus and they started to extinguish the flames by stomping, using their own hands and feet,” Watson said. “The flames were so intense that they put themselves in harm’s way. They could have caught on fire as the flames were coming off the fabric.”
Watson said those two men left before officers could arrive and interview them. But other passengers told the driver about what was happening and he stopped the bus, allowing passengers to exit from the rear of the vehicle.
After fleeing the bus, police were able to arrest Thomas on November 5.
“Richard Thomas’ violent and senseless criminal conduct resulted in severe and traumatic injuries to a young and entirely innocent victim,” said D.A. O’Malley in a statement. “The intentional and callous nature of the crime is shocking and will not be tolerated in our community. Our thoughts remain with the victim and the victim’s family in wishing for a full recovery from the extensive burns suffered as a result of this crime.”
Community members have rallied around the 18-year-old Fleischman, who attends Berkeley’s Maybeck High School. They have set up a fundraising page to help cover the cost of his medical care and as of Thursday afternoon, more than 500 supporters have donated more than $21,000.
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