Wisconsin police investigate hate crime: bi-racial woman burned while stopped for red light

Police in Wisconsin say they’re investigating an assault on an 18-year-old woman who is bi-racial as a hate crime.

Police said the woman was burned with lighter fluid early Wednesday morning, June 24.

According to police, Althea Bernstein was driving on W. Gorham Street when she stopped for a red light at State Street. Her driver’s side window was down and she heard someone yell out a racial epithet. She looked and saw four men, all white. She said one used a spray bottle to deploy a liquid on her face and neck, and then threw a flaming lighter at her, causing the liquid to ignite.

She drove forward, patted out the flames and eventually drove home, police said. Her mother encouraged her to go to a hospital.

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Hospital staff believed the liquid was lighter fluid. She was treated for burns, and will need to make follow-up visits to access additional medical care, according to police.

A call by The Associated Press to Bernstein's home was referred to Michael Johnson, president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dane County. Johnson released a statement from Bernstein's family that they were “saddened at what happened to Althea and the unprovoked attack on her body. At this time, our family is asking everyone to respect our privacy as Althea is recovering from the burns on her face and neck.”

Police said investigators are looking at surveillance images to see if any of the assault was captured on camera.

Anyone with information on this crime is asked to contact Madison Area Crime Stoppers at 608-266-6014 or by computer at P3Tips.com.

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The assault came amid a night of violence Tuesday that included the toppling of two statues outside the Capitol and an attack on a state senator. A group of 200 to 300 people protested the arrest of a Black man after he shouted at restaurant customers through a megaphone while carrying a baseball bat.

Someone also threw a Molotov cocktail into a government building and attempted to break into the Capitol, only to be repelled by pepper spray from police stationed inside. The violence prompted Gov. Tony Evers to activate the National Guard to protect state properties.

On Wednesday night, about 40 people gathered peacefully outside the county jail where the man was being held, calling for his release. A crowd of about 100 people congregated outside the Capitol.

FOX 6 Now and the Associated Press contributed to this report.