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Man soaked in gasoline is ignited in flames by Taser

The man doused himself in gasoline before police struck him with a Taser after witnesses reported he was being erratic with a gun

By Robert Medley and Josh Wallace
The Oklahoman

LINDSAY,Okla. — A man died Tuesday evening after dousing himself and the inside of his van in gasoline and then being struck by a police officer’s Taser, the McClain County Sheriff’s Department reported.

The man had been reported as missing by Norman police and was reportedly suicidal, said McClain County Sheriff Don Hewett. Two Lindsay police officers located the man about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday inside a parked van at 100th Street and Council Avenue, about 2 miles northwest of Lindsay.

Lindsay city manager Stephen Mills said the officers were responding to a report of a man who was acting erratic with a gun when they found him sitting inside a van with a container of gasoline.

Mills said the officers ordered the man out of the van and he got out with a lighter in his hand.

Officers saw the gasoline but said he did not smell any gasoline on the man and did not see the man pour it inside the van, Mills said.

As the man disobeyed the officers’ commands to get away from the van, he turned to get back inside the van, Mills said. The officer fired the Taser, igniting the gasoline. The man climbed back into the van, where the flames ignited the gasoline already poured inside the van. The van was quickly engulfed in flames, and one officer’s jacket caught fire during the blaze.

Lindsay firefighters responded to extinguish the blaze.

Mills said he didn’t think the officer violated any training in the use of a Taser, which can ignite any flammable liquid or fumes present. The officer believed the risk of the man getting back into the van with gasoline and a lighter was greater than firing the Taser, Mills said. Officers have not released the name of the man, who died at the scene.

Hewett said the fire burned the man beyond recognition.

The Lindsay officer who fired the Taser, whose name has not been released, suffered minor burn injuries and was treated and released at a Lindsay emergency room clinic, Hewett said.

Mills said both officers have been placed on routine paid leave pending an outcome of the investigation into the incident.

Hewett said Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents are assisting in the investigation into the death.

Manufacturer’s warning

Taser manufacturer Axon specifically warns against the use of a Taser or conducted electrical weapon, also known as a CEW, when gasoline or other flammable liquids or vapor is present.

“CEW use can result in a fire or explosion when flammable gases, fumes, vapors, liquids, or materials are present. Use of a CEW in presence of fire or explosion hazard could result in death or serious injury. When possible, avoid using a CEW in known flammable hazard conditions,” according to Axon.

A number of people have been injured or killed in recent years following Taser use by law enforcement where gasoline or other flammable liquids were present.

On July 10, an Arlington, Texas, man who had doused himself with gasoline caught fire after an officer fired a Taser at him. Four days later, Gabriel Olivas, 39, died at a hospital, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Arlington police spokeswoman Sgt. Vanessa Harrison told the paper they were aware of the risk of using a “stun gun” near gasoline, but said Olivas was “very frantic and erratic and became a danger to everyone in the room.”

Also in July, a Manitowoc, Wisconsin, man’s beard and chest hair caught fire after police were attempting to arrest him and a Taser probe reportedly struck a lighter he was holding.

In February 2015, a Virginia man led police on a pursuit and ultimately crashed his car, which led to his clothes being soaked in gasoline.

Authorities said Miles November was being combative as they pulled him from the wreckage and a Taser was deployed and November caught fire, which led to burns over 80 percent of his body.

In 2007, Juan Flores Lopez, 47, died after catching fire after a San Angelo, Texas, police officer deployed a Taser. Police said that Lopez had poured gasoline over himself and the Taser was used after pepper spray was ineffective.

Lopez later died at a hospital.