Teen who set fire to Berkeley student cites homophobia

Luke “Sasha” Fleischman, a senior at Maybeck High School in Berkeley, is in hospital undergoing surgeries after being badly burned when set fire to on a bus on Monday Nov. 4. Photo: Fundly

The Alameda County District Attorney has charged 16-year-old Richard Thomas for a hate crime, along with aggravated mayhem and felony assault, for setting fire to 18-year-old Berkeley student Luke “Sasha” Fleischman on an AC Transit bus on Monday.

Thomas said he committed the crime “because he was homophobic,” according to notes taken by the Oakland Police Department when they interviewed him.

“Richard Thomas’ violent and senseless criminal conduct resulted in severe and traumatic injuries to a young and entirely innocent victim,” D.A. O’Malley said in a prepared statement. “The intentional and callous nature of the crime is shocking and will not be tolerated in our community. Our thoughts remain with the victim and the victim’s family in wishing for a full recovery from the extensive burns suffered as a result of this crime.”

Luke “Sasha” Fleischman, a senior at Maybeck High School, a private school in South Berkeley, was sleeping in the rear of a bus heading towards the family home in Oakland when Thomas allegedly set the skirt Fleischman was wearing on fire.

Fleischman, with the help of other riders, was able to extinguish the flames but suffered second- and third-degree burns to the legs that will require significant skin grafting. The student is undergoing treatment at St. Francis Memorial Hospital’s Bothin Burn Center in San Francisco.

Fleischman does not identify as male or female but rather as “agender,” and feels comfortable wearing a skirt, the victim’s mother, Debbie Fleischman, has told the media. Fleischman prefers to be referred to as “they” rather than “he” or “she,” according to staff at Maybeck.

A fundraising campaign set up by Fleischman’s cousin to help with medical costs has already exceeded its goal of $20,000 and been closed down. More than 500 people contributed.

Thomas, a student at Oakland High School, was identified through surveillance video on the bus and subsequently arrested. Although Thomas is a minor, D.A. O’Malley chose to file a criminal complaint in adult court which enabled authorities to release his name.

The arraignment was due to take place today, Nov. 7, at 2:00 p.m.

Read the court’s criminal complaint document.

Supporters rally for Berkeley student set fire on bus (11.07.13)

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside. Email: tracey@citysidejournalism.org.