An 18-year-old biracial Monona woman was reportedly assaulted by four white men who burned her with lighter fluid early Wednesday, June 24. Madison police launched a hate crime investigation, and the FBI is also investigating.
Althea Bernstein told Madison police she was driving on West Gorham Street when she stopped for a red light at State Street at about 1 a.m.
Her driver’s side window was open, and she heard someone yell out a racial epithet. She looked and saw four men, all white. She told police one sprayed a liquid on her face and neck, and then threw a flaming lighter at her, causing the liquid to ignite.
She drove forward, patted out the flames, and eventually drove home.
“I don’t even like remember anything,” Bernstein told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “But your brain still has the fight or flight response that takes care of you, so I made it home. I called my mom. I drove myself to the ER.”
Hospital staff believed the liquid was lighter fluid. She was treated for burns and will need to make follow-up visits to access additional medical care.
Her family issued a statement through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson, who they have designated as the family contact.
“Our family is saddened by what happened to Althea and the unprovoked attack on her body,” the statement read
Investigators are looking at surveillance images to see if any of the assault was captured on camera.
“It’s definitely a learning opportunity, and I’m very, very hopeful that these men sort of see all the responses and that they know that they hurt me,” Bernstein told “GMA.” “This is something that’s going to affect me for a while. I really hope they choose to improve themselves.”
For those who want to help, Bernstein’s family has requested donations be made in her name to Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County at www.bgcdc.org/donate or to the GoFundMe page set up by Linda Rogalski for Paws & Reflect Farm at www.gofundme.com/f/Paws-and-Reflect.
Anyone with information about it is asked to contact Madison Area Crime Stoppers at 266-6014. A $5,000 reward is being offered for any information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the suspects.