18-year-old Althea Bernstein was en route to her brother’s house when she was attacked by four white men early Wednesday morning. In an interview with Madison 365, the Wisconsin teen shared that she was waiting at a stoplight when the men threw lighter fluid and a flame at her after shouting racial slurs.
“I was listening to some music at a stoplight and then all of a sudden I heard someone yell the N-word really loud,” she said. “I turned my head to look and somebody’s throwing lighter fluid on me. And then they threw a lighter at me, and my neck caught on fire and I tried to put it out, but I brushed it up onto my face. I got it out and then I just blasted through the red light … I just felt like I needed to get away. So I drove through the red light and just kept driving until I got to my brother.”
Bernstein, who works as an EMT and is studying to be a firefighter, sustained second and third-degree burns. She described the assailants as four white men who “looked like classic Wisconsin frat boys … Two of them were wearing all black, and then the other two were wearing jeans and a floral shirt.”
Following the attack, Bernstein was able to drive to her brother’s house because she was still in shock.
“I’ve had patients in shock and I know what shock is based on the textbook,” she said. “It’s so incapacitating, you don’t even realize what’s going on. My brain still got me home and my brain still got me to call my mom. I just remember my face was bleeding.”
“Our family is saddened at what happened to Althea and the unprovoked attack on her body,” the family of the victim expressed in statement. “At this time, our family is asking everyone to respect our privacy as Althea is recovering from the burns on her face and neck. Our family have asked the Boys & Girls Clubs CEO to serve as the contact for our family. The story on Madison365 accurately depicts her experience and we feel it’s in the best interest of Althea to heal and to seek treatment.”
The victim later drove herself to a nearby hospital to be treated. She eventually called Madison Police, who are now investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.