AC Transit bus fire suspect could face hate crime charge

A teenager who was set on fire while sleeping on an AC Transit bus in Oakland is recovering after undergoing surgery.
November 6, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Oakland police are looking for help with a horrifying case that may be a hate crime.

A high school student, who's also an activist for gender identity issues, suffered serious burns after he was set on fire while riding an AC Transit bus.

The 16-year-old suspect in this case may not only be charged with a hate crime, he could also be charged as an adult. That will be up to the district attorney.

In the meantime, Oakland police say they want very much to talk with two other bus passengers who very well may have saved the life of the victim.

"I wish these people would wake up and realize life is too short to be killing and beating each other up," a neighbor said.

The neighbor, who can be heard talking on this video, shot the scene with his cellphone just moments after police and paramedics responded to a call that a passenger had been badly burned on an AC Transit bus Monday evening.

It happened on the 57 line, near the intersection of MacArthur Boulevard and Ardley Avenue in Oakland.

Luke "Sasha" Fleischman of Oakland was asleep in the back of the bus when police say a local high school student lit the 18-year-old's skirt-like clothing on fire.

Fellow students at Berkeley's Maybeck High School know Fleischman as Sasha.

"Luke is an excellent student here at Maybeck, and at this point, we're respecting the privacy of the family, so we don't have any further comment at this point," said Trevor Cralle, Maybeck High School Director.

The victim's mother, Debbie Fleischman, told our media partner the Bay Area Newsgroup that Fleischman does not identify as a man or woman, but rather as binary gender, and feels comfortable wearing a skirt.

A 16-year-old Oakland high school student has been arrested for setting Fleischman on fire. The suspect could be charged with a hate crime.

"And the immediately tried to stomp out the flames," Oakland police spokesperson Johnna Watson said.

Meantime, Oakland police are putting out a plea for two other passengers, seen on a bus surveillance video, to come forward.

"You could clearly see that the citizens had a very difficult time extinguishing those flames and we want to reach out to them, ask them to contact the Oakland Police Department, our investigators would like to talk to them," Watson said.

Roger Ham lives next door to the victim's family.

"My neighbors have a big heart," he said. "I've know them for a long time, the kid is very polite."

Fleischman is being treated at a San Francisco burn center. He faces painful skin grafts and a long recovery.

The suspect is being held at the Alameda County Juvenile Detention Center.

A fundraiser set up online for Fleischman surpassed its $20,000 goal. At the family's request, the fundraiser ended just after they reached the goal.

A note on the website said, "On behalf of Sasha's family, THANK YOU SO MUCH for your generosity, love, and support. Per the family's request, we are ending the fundraiser shortly after the $20,000 mark. You guys did it. You helped heal a wounded soul & lifted up a family in need. Thank you for that. Words cannot express our gratitude. Though this fundraiser cannot undo what has happened, it can be a testament to all of us that there are still good people in the world. Once again, thank you for your support!


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