One of the good Samaritans who put out the flames on Luke Sasha Fleischman after someone set fire to the agender Oakland teen recently said only one other person aided Fleischman on the crowded bus, but he doesn’t consider himself a hero.
Richard Allan Thomas, 16, of Oakland, has been charged with aggravated mayhem and assault after he put a lighter to the skirt Fleischman was wearing as they rode an AC Transit bus November 4 in Oakland. Both charges carry a hate crime enhancement. Thomas, who’s being charged as an adult, hasn’t entered a plea.
Dan Gale, 53, of Oakland, was recognized Wednesday, November 20 at the Transgender Day of Remembrance memorial in Oakland City Hall.
In an interview, said that he’d been riding in the middle of the long, packed number 57 bus that Monday night earlier this month when he “heard a commotion, looked back,” and saw Fleischman, who’s 18,
“I had to push my way back” as other people, some of them youth who were laughing, ran away from the fire. The lower half of Fleischman’s body was in flames.
Gale, a construction worker, recalled thinking, “I can do this. It’s ok. I can handle this.” By the time he got back to Fleischman, said Gale, “the skirt was completely burning.”
He dove and went around Fleischman’s thighs to try to put out the fire.
“I used my sweatshirt a little bit,” but finally “ended up grabbing the skirt and ripping it off” of Fleischman, said Gale. He and the other person finally got the teen on the ground and put the fire out.
All Fleischman said was that someone had lit them on fire, and they had a look of “terror” and “fear,” said Gale. Fleischman was “really in shock.” They had “horrific”-looking burns all over their legs. (Sasha Fleischman prefers “they,” “them,” and “their,” when people refer to them in the third person, according to Karl Fleischman, Fleischman’s father.)
After the incident was over, the first thing that Fleischman wanted was their book, said Gale. Fleischman got off the bus and called their parents.
Gale said he didn’t see the person who started the fire, but “I heard one girl say, ‘Oh, you’re not gonna’ do that,’ kind of laughing about it.” He said he didn’t hear any name-calling or anything homophobic during the incident.
“I have no idea who did it,” he said, but “I just saw someone on fire who needed help.”
Gale said he doesn’t know who the other good Samaritan was.
When a TV reporter asked him about being a hero, Gale said, “I’m not a hero. I’m not a hero. … Somebody needed help. I did what I could do.” He added that to him, “a hero is a schoolteacher.”
Gale teared up during Wednesday’s ceremony, where interim Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent noted Oakland has “a reputation for crime,” but Gale’s actions show “there are very good people all over the city.”
William Du Bois, Thomas’s attorney, has referred to the incident as a “prank.”
Told of the remark, Gale said, “A prank? Lighting somebody on fire isn’t a prank,” it’s “trying to hurt somebody.”
Gale said he rides the 57 bus regularly and there are usually many “rowdy, rude kids” riding, “typical high school kids.”
Fleischman remains hospitalized, but their father recently said, “things are looking good.”
People wishing to make donations to assist Fleischman may go to https://fundly.com/helping-sasha-fleischman-have-a-speedy-recovery.
Funds raised beyond what’s needed will possibly go to an organization that deals with issues such as gender identity or anti-bullying, said Karl Fleischman.
Thomas’s next court hearing is set for Tuesday, November 26.