Authorities are investigating an assault on a black woman who says she was doused with fluid and set on fire just several blocks from Wisconsin's Capitol.
According to Madison365, 18-year-old Althea Bernstein told police the incident occurred at around 1 a.m. Wednesday as she was driving to her brother's house. The EMT said she had reached a red light downtown when she heard someone yell a racial slur. Moments later, someone sprayed flammable liquid on her face before throwing an ignited lighter through her window.
"I heard someone yell the N-word really loud," Bernstein, who is biracial, told Madison365. "I turned my head to look and somebody’s throwing lighter fluid on me. And then they threw a lighter at me, and my neck caught on fire and I tried to put it out, but I brushed it up onto my face. I got it out and then I just blasted through the red light. … I just felt like I needed to get away. So I drove through the red light and just kept driving until I got to my brother and Middleton."
Once she arrived at her brother's home, Bernstein's mother encouraged her to go to the hospital. She took the advice was treated for second- and third-degree burns. Police say hospital staff believe Bernstein was sprayed with lighter fluid.
Bernstein said she was advised not to file a police report until after the effects of her pain medication had worn off. She filed a complaint on Wednesday.
"At first I didn’t even believe what had happened. I grew up in Madison, on the East side, and my dad would take me to the Farmer’s Market every weekend, on those same streets," she said. "It just felt so weird to have these really happy memories there, and then now to have this memory that sort of ruined all of the childhood memories. 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 described the attackers as four white men who "looked like classic Wisconsin frat boys." Two of the suspects were reportedly dressed in all black, while the other two were wearing floral shirts and jeans. She said she believed the men were intoxicated based on their movements.
The assault took place during another night of protests in downtown Madison. Bernstein said she did not participate in the demonstrations, but was aware they were taking place.
The Madison Police Department announced Thursday they were investigating the attack as a possible hate crime. Authorities are now reviewing surveillance video in an effort to identify the suspects. Those with information on the assault are asked to contact Madison Area Crime Stoppers at (608) 266-6014 or P3Tips.com