Berkeley Teen Burned on Bus Will Keep Wearing Skirts

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

Eighteen-year-old Sasha Fleischman was set on fire on an AC Transit bus earlier this month, in what authorities believe is a hate crime. Fleischman, who was badly burned on his legs, made it home in time for Thanksgiving. He says the 16-year-old accused of the attack shouldn’t be charged as an adult.

Three weeks after suffering second- and third-degree burns when the his skirt was set ablaze, Fleischman spoke with reporters on Thursday.

He said suspect Richard Thomas, 16, of Oakland, “probably didn’t realize how big of a deal it was going to be, how harmful it would be.”

“I don’t want to be too harsh because people do dumb things, especially when they’re teenagers. If I had my way, I’d have him tried as a juvenile,” Fleischman said.

The Associated Press reports that “prosecutors have charged Thomas as an adult with aggravated mayhem and felony assault, with hate crime enhancements. Police said Thomas told investigators he was homophobic.” Thomas’ lawyer, William DuBois, argued at a hearing earlier this week that his client should be charged as a juvenile. An Alameda County judge plans to issue a ruling on the matter Dec. 20.

DuBois said the incident was a prank that went wrong. But Fleischman, a high school senior whose legs are still heavily bandaged, said, “I think you should really know better than to light someone’s clothing on fire.

“I think you should be able to realize that that’s not just a funny prank.”

More from the AP:

The incident has drawn worldwide attention as Fleischman’s family and friends helped raise tens of thousands of dollars to pay for medical bills. Several classmates wore skirts to school to condemn the attack.

Fleischman, who was released from the hospital Wednesday, said panic set in moments after feeling the flames.

“My first instinct was kind of dumb,” Fleischman said. “I started waving it around trying to put it out with air, but that just fanned the flames and made it bigger.

“My second reaction, which is probably what saved my life, I went back to kindergarten class and ‘stop, drop and roll,’ so I just dropped on the floor and started rolling around,” Fleischman said.

Other passengers also helped put out the flames. Fleischman’s injuries required three surgeries and three weeks in the burn unit.

Despite it all, Fleischman intends to keep wearing skirts.

“I’m going to keep wearing the skirt. I’m not going to give it up,” Fleischman said. “It’s a big part of who I am, and I don’t like pants.”

As a result of the incident, Fleischman finds himself a representative of the agender community. He told NBC Bay Area that being lit on fire – and having the word “agender” thrown into the national media – has changed his life:

“It’s really weird,” Fleischman said. “I’m not used to being in the public eye. It’s a big responsibility to be a representative of the whole nonbinary gender community. I hope to be able to inform people about the whole spectrum.”

Related

  • token420

    I’m feeling oddly inspired to plunk down for a Utilikilt right about now. “Fleischman intends to keep wearing skirts.” He’s not the only one.

  • leawalt

    This incident has forced Fleishman into a public role and I, for one, support him in taking a stand about his attacker. The kid should NOT be tried as an adult and I hope a petition goes around about it. Fleishman, thank you for your compassion. As a teen-ager yourself, you know better, but this kid did not and he needs to learn. Your compassion for him teaches the most important lesson of all.

  • mikey

    people are still not understanding… from what I know Sasha wanted to be referred to as they or them or Sasha If you cant do that there’s ze, zer, zim, tree, ect . Its also about what ever people want to be referred as.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor