Wis. EMT set on fire, hate crime investigation underway

Madison EMT Althea Bernstein, who is Black, told police she was attacked by four white men who sprayed her with lighter fluid and called her the N-word

By Laura French

MADISON, Wis. — A Black Wisconsin EMT suffered burns to her face and neck in what police are now investigating as a hate crime

Madison EMT Althea Bernstein, who is currently studying to become a firefighter and paramedic, told police four white men approached her vehicle while she was stopped at a red light on Wednesday, and that one of them sprayed her with lighter fluid and set her on fire with a lighter, according to The Wisconsin State Journal. Bernstein also said she heard the men calling her the N-word. 

Bernstein said she managed to put out the flames and drive to her house, and then drove herself to the hospital when she realized the severity of her injuries, according to Madison 365.

"I've had patients in shock and I know what shock is based on the textbook," Bernstein told Madison 365. "It's so incapacitating, you don't even realize what's going on." 

Bernstein was treated for burn injuries to one side of her face and neck. 

Madison police are now investigating the incident as a hate crime and are looking to see if surveillance cameras caught footage of the attackers. Bernstein described the assailants as white college-aged men and said two were wearing all black and two were wearing floral shirts and jeans. She said they appeared to be intoxicated and used a spray bottle to spray her with the lighter fluid. 

A protest was occurring in Madison at the time of the attack but Bernstein said she was not participating. 

"I never really knew someone could hate you just by looking at you. They didn't know me. I didn't know them. I was just driving my car and minding my own business," Bernstein told Madison 365. 

Bernstein said an unauthorized GoFundMe has been circulating related to her case and that she is not asking for financial support, and would prefer for people to sign petitions and support the anti-racism moment. 


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