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Witnesses describe horror of seeing man set on fire

October 23, 2012 |  8:24 am


As Long Beach authorities continued Tuesday to search for the assailant who threw a firebomb at a man waiting outside a market, two eyewitnesses recounted the horror of seeing the victim engulfed in flames.

Berta Salcedo said she and her husband arrived at El Paisano Super Market at 245 W. Pacific Coast Highway about 7 p.m. Friday night. As they were parking, the pair saw a suspicious-looking man standing behind a palm tree along the alleyway.

Salcedo said that while her husband was inside, she began talking to the man who was sitting on the ground. She, like many in the area, knew him as Raul. At one point, Salcedo said, the man by the alleyway walked over to a free magazine rack in front of the market, grabbed a periodical and began twisting it as he looked straight at them, laughing.

"He must have thought we were fools for not realizing what was about to happen next," Salcedo said.

She described the person as having white skin, light brown eyes, several pimples on his face and shaved black hair. The man was wearing a light gray shirt and blue, baggy Levis pants. She said she noticed the man had a tattoo on the right side of his neck, but couldn't make out what it was. She also said he had a tattoo on his forearm.

Salcedo said the man then walked back to the palm tree, bent down, got back up and turned to walk toward them. The man, she said, was shaking a clear beer bottle filled with a yellow fluid, which she thought was gasoline.

She said the man then used a cigarette lighter to ignite the bottle before tossing it at the direction of where Raul was sitting.

"The bottle broke near Raul's neck and the gasoline spread all over his body. At that point, she ran to pull a baby stroller out of the way as Raul crawled, then ran wildly in the parking lot of the market.

"I was shocked," Salcedo said. "People were telling him not to run because they were trying to help him put out the flames."

Nearby, at the bus stop by Pacific Coast Highway, Gregorio Valdivia, 58, was waiting for his wife, Ramona, to return home from work when he heard screaming and turned to see a man on fire.

Valdivia said he ran to Raul while removing his shirt, which he used to help put out the flames.

"The first thing I did was remove his jacket," Valdivia said. "I couldn't remove his pants, so I started tearing pieces of it off."

Valdivia said he did not burn his hands while dousing the flames.

"Maybe it's because it happened all too fast, I was peeling the pants off out of desperation to help him," he said.

Valdivia said the man was screaming while others were helping put the flames out. Some of the man's skin had melted off, he said. The victim's father was in shock when he came out of the market and was told what had happened, Valdivia said.

"I hope they catch the guy who did this," he said.

"I was telling my husband, if I were to see him on the street, I'd recognized him," Salcedo said.

Since the incident, Salcedo said she has been afraid to go shopping because the man who tried to kill Raul may want to hurt since she witnessed the attack.

She's had nightmares about a burning man, running wildly.

"I keep thinking, how horrible and how sad that this happened to him," Salcedo said.

Authorities have not identifed a suspect, but described him as Latino, 25 to 30 years old, 5-feet-8 to to 5-feet-10 and weighing about 180 pounds. He was wearing a light-colored, short-sleeve, button-down shirt with vertical stripes and blue jeans.


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