18-year-old Althea Bernstein says she was at a stoplight in downtown Madison around 1 am Wednesday when four men yelled the N-word, threw lighter fluid on her, and lit it.
“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 says.
Bernstein reportedly suffered third-degree burns. Bernstein’s mother drove her to the hospital later that day, where the hospital staff identified the liquid on her face and neck as lighter fluid. A police incident report says the men used a spray bottle to spray the lighter fluid onto Bernstein’s face.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, police are investigating the incident as a potential hate crime. Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said investigators are looking at surveillance images of the street to see if the attack was captured on camera. Bernstein will reportedly need continued medical treatment for her burns.
Police are urging anyone with information about the attack or Bernstein’s assailants to contact Madison Area Crime Stoppers at (608) 266-6014 or at P3Tips.com.