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Man sets himself on fire
By JESSICA LOGAN and CHRISTINA SOSA, Californian staff writers
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com | Friday, Dec 22 2006 4:38 PM
Last Updated: Friday, Dec 22 2006 6:37 PM
A day after the Kern High School District board of directors voted to rename winter and spring break as Christmas and Easter break, a man set himself on fire in front of the Liberty Bell on Truxtun Avenue in apparent protest.
The man, who was not immediately identified, used flammable liquid to set himself, a Christmas tree, an American flag and a revolutionary flag replica on fire just before 3:30 p.m., according to Bakersfield Fire Captain Garth Milam.
The fire was quickly extinguished by a nearby deputy and parole agent.
Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Lance Ferguson saw drifts of smoke from the security station at the doors of the court.
The deputy, who mans the security screening at the doors of the court, grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran outside.
Flames were devouring a Christmas tree next to the Liberty Bell where public events and demonstrations are common.
Beside the tree, stood a man with an American flag draped around his shoulders and red gas can over his head.
When the man saw the deputy he poured the liquid over his head and within seconds the fumes from the gas met the flames from the tree and the man ignited in fire.
The deputy yelled to the man again and again to drop to the ground as he and a nearby parole agent emptied their fire extinguishers on him.
“The man stood there like this,” the deputy said with his arms across his chest and his head bent down, “Saying no, no, no.”
Finally the deputy grabbed a sweater on the ground and beat the remaining flames out.
When the flames were out, the man was covered with the chemicals from the fire extinguisher and burns. But he was alive.
The man suffered first degree burns on his shoulders and arms, Milam said.
When the deputy looked over to the Christmas tree he saw a charred heap with lights wrapped around it and a silver star at the top.
Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy John Leyendecker said the man had a sign that read something to the effect of - “(expletive) the religious establishment and KHSD.”
Milam said that on his way to the hospital, the man made some sort of statement about the destructive effect of religion.
Leyendecker believes the man may have set himself on fire as a protest of the recent Kern High School District board decision to call winter and spring break, Christmas and Easter break.
“I’m sad that any man would light themselves on fire because they disagree with a decision by a representative board elected by the voters,” said Trustee Chad Vegas, who brought the issue to the board. “My reaction as pastor is that it demonstrates the deep depravity of man and his need for the grace of God through Jesus Christ.”
Trustee Bob Hampton, the only board member to vote against changing the names of the school breaks, declined to comment until he had further information.
Trustee Joel Heinrichs offered sympathy for the man.
“That’s terrible and I hope he recovers. There’s room in our civil society to have policy disagreements and nobody needs to do anything that extreme,” Heinrichs said.
Trustees Bryan Batey and Ken Mettler could not be immediately reached for comment.
It was not immediately clear what hospital the man was taken to.
“The fast action of Ferguson and the parole officer saved that man’s life,” Leyendecker said.
“Thanks,” the deputy said with his head bent down.
Ferguson has been a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy for about six months, full time about a month.
“It’s the most awful thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Ferguson said.