Suicidal Arlington man douses himself in gas, catches on fire

Arlington police say a man who was threatening suicide doused in gasoline and holding a lighter was critically burned when he caught fire.

Police say they used a taser on him and are investigating whether the lighter or the taser started the fire. But the man's wife is blaming police. She says they should have handled it differently even though police say he doused himself in gas and had an ignition device.

Police say officers were faced with a split second decision Monday afternoon when they were met with a man covered in gasoline holding what looked like a lighter and was threatening suicide.

"Eighty-six percent of his body is burned,” said a woman who claimed to be the man’s wife. She did not want to give her name.

The question is how the man got burned. Police say three officers found the 38-year-old man in a small room of the house. The officers tried to calm him down, but police say the situation quickly became dangerous for everyone in the room.

"He actually became more agitated, stood up, began waving a can and what looked like a lighter in his hand,” said Arlington Police Sgt. Vanessa Harrison. “He was also dousing himself with gasoline."

The officers went for a non-lethal resolution.

"The officers quickly trying to take action deployed the taser trying to subdue him,” Harrison said. “But he became engulfed in flames, immediately tried to put the fire out."

The man’s wife is angered that the action police took may have caused the fire. Police say they don't know yet if the taser or if what they believe was a lighter in the man's hand ignited the gasoline.

“They're saying that he had a lighter in his hand. Well, he had a thing and he had gasoline,” the wife said. “But he wasn't going to do nothing. They knew as soon as they tased him. There's three of them. They could have tackled him. They could have shot him or something. You know what I mean? Different.”

A neighbor's surveillance camera captured the moments after the confrontation with police and the man being wheeled off on a stretcher.

Alan Montes was outside next door when the ordeal happened.

"We jumped to this side of the fence and we broke my fence," he said.

Montes says officers helped him knock down the fence while other officers broke windows to get Olivas out.

"All these windows were where the smoke was coming out, and there was fire everywhere, " he recalled.

Attorney Pete Schulte, a reserve deputy and former police officer, said that the taser manufacturer includes a warning not to use it around flammable substances.

He also says increased scrutiny of how officers interact with people in potentially dangerous situations may have been a factor here.

“I have seen over the last few months a lot of officers take a hands-off approach. Where they can avoid using physical approach and a lot of times that is with a taser. Deploy a taser, incapacitate and take into custody,” Schulte said. “A lot of situations that is not appropriate this was one of them.”

The man is being treated for his burns. The three officers in the room were taken to the hospital and treated for smoke inhalation. Police says they have made other calls to the house before.

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