Attorney: Teen accused of setting bus passenger on fire close to plea deal

Bay City News
Friday, October 10, 2014

OAKLAND, Calif. -- A 17-year-old Oakland boy who's charged with aggravated mayhem and assault for allegedly setting another teen's skirt on fire on an AC Transit bus last November is prepared to enter into a plea bargain in his case, his attorney said today.

After a brief hearing this morning for Richard Thomas, who is being prosecuted as an adult for the alleged attack on 19-year-old Luke "Sasha" Fleischman on Nov. 4, 2013, defense attorney William DuBois said, "I think we will have a disposition in the case."

However, DuBois didn't disclose the terms of the potential plea agreement.

It was anticipated that the plea bargain might happen today, but when Thomas' case, which had been scheduled for 9 a.m., was called after 11 a.m. DuBois asked that the matter be put over to next Thursday because Thomas' mother had to leave court to go to work.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Paul Delucchi said he wanted to make clear for the record that the reason that Thomas' case wasn't called until late in the morning is that DuBois had been detained at an unrelated case in Contra Costa County longer than had been anticipated.

Delucchi said there's a backup trial date for Thomas if a plea agreement isn't finalized but said he "totally expects" that the case won't go to trial.

Fleischman, who was named Luke at birth but doesn't identify as either male or female, suffered second- and third-degree burns after Thomas, who was 16 at the time, allegedly used a lighter to set Fleichman's clothing on fire as while the teen was sleeping in the back of an AC Transit bus as it traveled near MacArthur Boulevard and Ardley Avenue in Oakland at about 5:20 p.m. on Nov. 4.

Fleischman, a student at Maybeck High School in Berkeley, was treated at the burn unit at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco for three weeks but was released the day before Thanksgiving and returned to school the following week.

On March 6, Thomas waived his right to have a preliminary hearing in the case.

DuBois said at that time that he doesn't dispute the basic facts of the incident and conceded that security footage from the AC Transit bus makes it clear that Thomas is the person who set Fleischman on fire.

But DuBois said that details still needed to be clarified about Thomas' state of mind and other circumstances in the incident and it would be more appropriate for those issues to be explored at pretrial hearings and at a trial than at a preliminary hearing.

Fleischman suffered second- and third-degree burns in the bus incident and spent three weeks in the burn unit at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco.

In addition to the mayhem and assault charges Thomas faces hate crime clauses.

DuBois has previously said Thomas only intended to carry out a prank in which there would merely be a small puff of smoke and was "mortified" when Fleischman became engulfed in flames.