Madison, Wisconsin authorities are investigating a possible hate crime after an 18-year-old biracial woman came forward to say that she had been doused with lighter fluid and then set on fire at a traffic stop on Wednesday.
The young woman, Althea Bernstein, told Madison365.com that she was on her way to her brother’s home around 1 a.m. on Wednesday morning when she stopped at a traffic light and heard someone yell out the N-word. When Bernstein turned her head in the direction of the person’s voice, she says that someone threw lighter fluid toward her face and then immediately tossed a lighter at her. She remembers her neck catching on fire and trying to put the flames out with her hands. Escaping the scene, she barrelled through the red light and kept driving until she reached her brother’s residence.
Bernstein describes the potentially four men involved in her attack as “classic Wisconsin frat boys,” adding that two of them were wearing all black, the other two were donning jeans, and all of them appeared to be intoxicated. The EMT worker studying to be a paramedic and firefighter credits her ability to flee the men as being in a state of shock.
“I know what shock is based on the textbook,” she told reporters. “It’s so incapacitating, you don’t even realize what’s going on. My brain still got me home and my brain still got me to call my mom. I just remember my face was bleeding.”
Bernstein sustained burns to the side of her face and will require regular medical appointments to remove the skin that was damaged. She will also need plastic surgery to repair the affected areas.
A GoFundMe has been set up to assist Bernstein with medical bills and legal assistance, but the young student said she nor her family need financial assistance at this time. She’d rather people’s efforts go towards supporting Black lives. The family has retained Michael Johnson, the CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, to represent them.
In an incident report, the City of Madison Police department confirms that Bernstein filed a report following her incident. They are asking anyone with information on Althea Bernstein’s attack to contact Madison Area Crime Stoppers at (608) 266-6014 or send a tip to P3Tips.com.