Luke “Sasha” Fleischman, high school student whose clothing was set on fire while riding on a bus in Oakland. (Fundly)

Update, 3:30 p.m. Thursday: Oakland police say a 16-year-old boy charged with lighting a fellow bus passenger on fire has told them he committed the attack because he’s homophobic.

Alameda County prosecutors say the suspect, Richard Thomas, a student at Oakland High School, will be tried as an adult. He faces charges of aggravated mayhem and felony assault resulting in serious bodily injury in the Monday evening attack on Luke “Sasha” Fleischman, 18, of Berkeley. Fleischman, who was wearing a skirt, had fallen asleep at the rear of a bus traveling through East Oakland when the attack occurred.

Prosecutors said today that Thomas will face hate-crime enhancements on both charges. Fleischman suffered second- and third-degree burns and is being treated in a San Francisco hospital burn unit. From the Oakland Tribune this afternoon:

Thomas’ “violent and senseless criminal conduct resulted in severe and traumatic injuries to a young and entirely innocent victim,” said Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley.

“The intentional and callous nature of the crime is shocking and will not be tolerated in our community,” O’Malley said. “Our thoughts remain with the victim and the victim’s family in wishing for a full recovery from the extensive burns suffered as a result of this crime.”

Felony aggravated assault carries a maximum prison sentence of life with the possibility of parole, the sentence for the assault charge is a maximum of eight years in prison, and each of the two hate crime enhancements carries one year each in prison, a spokeswoman for the Alameda County District Attorney said Thursday.

“During (the) suspect interview, the suspect stated he did it because he was homophobic,” lead police investigator Officer Anwawn Jones said in the probable cause statement.

Here’s our earlier account of the case, from KQED News Associate Berkeleyside:

By Tracey Taylor Berkeleyside

Support and funds are pouring in for an 18-year-old Berkeley student who was set on fire while riding an AC Transit bus in Oakland Monday evening.

Luke “Sasha” Fleischman, a senior at Berkeley’s Maybeck High School, was sleeping in the rear of a bus heading toward East Oakland. Fleischman’s skirt was set on fire, according to a report in the Oakland Tribune.

Police arrested a 16-year-old male Oakland High School student on Tuesday on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and mayhem. He could face other charges, according to the Tribune, which said he was identified through surveillance video on the bus.

Fleischman, with the help of other riders, was able to extinguish the flames but suffered second- and third-degree burns to the legs that will require significant skin grafting. The student is in stable condition at St. Francis Memorial Hospital’s Bothin Burn Center in San Francisco and has a good prognosis for recovery, according to an email sent out to the Maybeck community by the school’s director, Trevor Cralle, Tuesday.

Fleischman does not identify as male or female but rather as “agender,” and feels comfortable wearing a skirt, his mother, Debbie Fleischman, told the Tribune.

Laurie Kahn, operations and finance manager at Maybeck High School, a private, multicultural high school on College Avenue in south Berkeley, said today that Fleischman is a “remarkable kid” and an “excellent student” who is a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist.

“This has been devastating for all the community,” she said.

Fleischman prefers to be referred to as “they” rather than “he” or “she,” Kahn added. “Sasha worked out the gender issues on their own and we try to respect the wish to be referred to as ‘they.’”

Friends and acquaintances have been quick to rally around to support the Berkeley student. At the time of writing, nearly $16,000 has been raised from 283 people through a campaign set up on the Fundly website by Fleischman’s cousin, Joshua Allan. Nearly 200 comments expressing support have also been left on the site. The fundraising goal is currently set at $20,000, with funds earmarked for medical bills. [Update: As of 2:45 p.m., less than two hours after Berkeleyside's post was published, the number of donors was more than 400 and the amount pledged has increased to about $21,000.]

The Maybeck office is accepting cards and gifts for Sasha, but note that flowers are not permitted in the burn unit of the hospital.

  • j

    Our educational system should include tolerance. A 16 who hates and takes action on his hate may have lost his opportunity to use his education and his ability to be successful in life

  • DorothyP

    Did the accused really use the word “homophobia”? Seems unlikely.

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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