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March 8, 2013

Police: N.Y. man set himself on fire

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — A Plattsburgh man who had recently been charged with sex abuse was in critical condition Thursday after he apparently lit himself on fire.

At about 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, Plattsburgh City Police officers arrested Daniel W. Burke, 60, of 3 Charles Way as he was driving on Margaret Street.

He was taken to the Police Station, charged with driving while intoxicated and released to a sober person who came to pick him up.

On Feb. 13, Burke had been charged with second-degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child for allegedly molesting someone under age 14. He was out on bail from those charges.

Smell of gasoline

Just before 10 p.m. Wednesday, a neighbor of Burke's heard glass breaking at the man's mobile home and called police. Officers arrived and could see Burke inside the house by himself.

City Police Chief Desmond Racicot told the Press-Republican that the four patrol officers — Joel Vassar, Richard Tucker, Charles Wolfe and Adam Wood — surrounded the mobile home and tried to speak with Burke.

Then he turned off the lights in the mobile home. Suddenly, the bedroom where he was standing was aglow as Burke apparently set himself on fire.

Racicot said the four officers broke down the mobile-home door. They could smell a strong odor of gasoline as they rushed to Burke.

"He was engulfed in flames," the chief said. "They were half-carrying him, half-dragging him out of the trailer, slapping him with their hands and rolling him to try to put out the fire."

He told the officers he was trying to kill himself, said Racicot, who said Burke's burns were causing his skin to peel.

Rushing fire

Fire began to roar through the structure.

"Plattsburgh Fire Department personnel responded and fought the blaze," according to a news release from City Police. "A neighboring trailer and also a single-family home were damaged by the extreme heat and flames.

"Neighbors were all evacuated during the firefighting effort."

In the meantime, Burke was taken by ambulance to CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh, where he was treated and then transferred to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington with first- and second-degree burns to half of his body. He was listed in critical condition Thursday.

City crews cited

Vassar and Tucker, whose uniforms were burned as they tried to put out the fire on Burke, were taken to CVPH for evaluation, then released. All four officers returned to work Wednesday night, Racicot said.

"Certainly, the department is very proud of them," the chief said. "There is no doubt that, right then and there, they saved this guy's life."

Racicot also said city firefighters did a good job in a challenging situation.

"In a case like this, where there is the presence of some kind of accelerant, that steps it up a notch, as far as the intensity of a fire," he said. "We are very fortunate that they were able to protect the adjacent residents."

Technicians were at the mobile home on Thursday doing crime-scene forensics.

"It is being investigated as an arson," Racicot said.

"It is tough," he said of Burke's mental state. "He admitted trying to kill himself. He obviously had some legal problems."

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