LaGRANGE — Witnesses said a man set himself on fire midday Tuesday at a gas station on Hogansville Road.
The 29-year-old man doused himself in gasoline before reaching into his car and lighting a cigarette, according to two witnesses.
A third witness grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the fire as others called 911. The man was taken by helicopter to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. Police this morning said he was in critical but stable condition in a medically induced coma. Witnesses said he was conscious when emergency workers arrived.
Three contractors who were working in the parking lot of the Summit gas station at 3142 Hogansville Road said they saw the man pull in and park his car at a pump. He then entered the store and bought $3 worth of gas. The man came back outside, took the fuel nozzle off the hook and poured 63 cents worth of gas all over his body, said witness Miles Henderson, a 23-year-old contractor from Winfield, Alabama.
“The guy sprayed himself with gas — soaked himself, like he was taking a shower,” Henderson said.
A second contractor, Stacey Nails, 22, of Winfield, Alabama, said the man leaned through the passenger window of the car and lit a cigarette. Nails and Henderson were working just feet from the man and ran away toward the road.
“We were scared he was trying to blow the place up,” Nails said.
The man was “completely on fire,” Nails said, as he ran screaming from the fuel pump toward the store.
“Like, 10-foot flames,” Nails said.
The man was taking off his clothes as he ran toward the store, Nails said.
A third contractor, Bubba Huffman of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was inside the store when the man lit himself on fire. He ran to his work truck and grabbed a fire extinguisher.
Huffman said he first ran to the gas pump to put out a fire burning in the man’s car, then sprayed the man with the fire extinguisher. All three witnesses said the man was alert and talking after the fire was out. They added that he appeared badly burned.
A woman who described herself as the district manager for the gas station declined to comment.
The man’s charred clothing and personal items were on the ground near the gas station and were collected by police investigators. Detectives photographed the man’s vehicle, the scene and interviewed witnesses. LaGrange Police Lt. Dale Strickland said the investigation is ongoing.
Tyler H. Jones is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.