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Flames engulf woman at park

November 11, 2003|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Authorities flew a Williamsport woman to a Baltimore burn center Monday evening after she set herself on fire at the town's park in an apparent suicide attempt, officials said.

The man who extinguished her said the screams that came from the park's parking lot were something "you'd never forget."

Assistant State Fire Marshal Ed Ernst said the 51-year-old woman suffered second- and third-degree burns to at least 75 percent of her body. Ernst said the woman doused herself in gasoline and lighted herself at approximately 5:22 p.m. in a parking lot near Byron Memorial Park's pool, just a few hundred yards from the main travel artery leading into town.

Ernst said the incident was being treated as a suicide attempt. He said the woman was under "emotional distress" prior to the incident.

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"She left a note, but I haven't read it yet, to be quite honest," Ernst said Monday evening.

The woman was taken by helicopter to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. A hospital spokeswoman said she was listed in critical condition late Monday.

Williamsport resident Walter Williams was responsible for extinguishing the flames, according to Ernst.

Williams said he was planning to get a cup of coffee at the Sheetz on Potomac and Artizan streets when he decided to walk toward the park. Williams said he goes to the park several times each day to check on the baseball fields because of his involvement as the local Little League president.

"I seen this big ball of fire light up, and thought kids lit the leaves on fire. But they didn't," Williams said. "I heard this screaming that you'd never forget."

Williams said he ran toward the woman, a mother of two, threw her to the ground and used his coat to smother the flames that engulfed her.

Hours later, Williams said he was shocked and uneasy about the incident. He said it was more difficult to handle emotionally because he knew the woman and members of her family.

"It's harder to deal with (when you know the person)," Williams said. "She was a cheerful woman. I never thought anything like that would ever happen."

Williams suffered minor burns to his hands as a result of his efforts.

"I didn't care, as long as I put her out," he said. "I did what anyone else would do."

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