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Madison police investigating attack on woman as hate crime

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Althea Bernstein
Althea Bernstein

UPDATE(WKOW) -- While waiting for a greet light at the intersection of Gorham and State street, Althea Bernstein says four white men called her a racial slur, before attacking her, and setting her on fire with lighter fluid.

For Michael Johnson CEO of the the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, he couldn't think of a more obvious example of a hate crime.

The Bernstein family, asked Johnson to speak on their behalf moving forward.

He says Althea is physically doing well as of Thursday.

"But I think her mom and her dad are worried about her mental well being and the scars that are going to be on her," he said.

Bernstein told Madison 365 that the attack happened early Wednesday morning at around 1.

She says she was at the intersection when four white men in floral shirts yelled the n-word, sprayed her with light fluid and threw a lit lighter at her.

"Here's a young lady that was minding her own business and somebody decided to set her on fire," Johnson said. "It's unacceptable."

Madison police say they *are investigating this as a hate crime, reviewing video from the cameras at that intersection.

Johnson says this is an escalation of racial tensions felt all across the country.

"Somebody tried to cause bodily harm because of the color of their skin, and I think all of these things that are happening across the country and right here in our back yard, is just unacceptable," he said. "Where is the respect for humanity?

MADISON (WKOW) -- The Madison Police Department is investigating an alleged hate crime after bi-racial woman said she was burned with lighter fluid in downtown Madison Wednesday morning.

Police say the victim, an 18-year-old woman, believes she was driving on West Gorham Street at about 1 a.m. when she was stopped at a red light at State Street.

Her driver's side window was down and she heard someone yell out a racial epithet. She told police she looked and saw four white men. One used a spray bottle to put liquid on her face and neck and then threw a lighter at her. The liquid went up in flames.

The victim said she drove forward and was able to pat out the flames. She drove home and her mother encouraged her to go to the hospital, according to police.

She was treated for burns and with need to continue to seek medial care for her injuries. Hospital staff think the liquid spray on her was lighter fluid.

Investigators are looking into the case and examining surveillance images to see if the assault could be seen on camera.

Anyone with information about this is asked to contact the Madison Area Crime Stoppers at (608) 266-6014 or by computer at

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