Biracial woman set on fire by 4 white men at Wisconsin stoplight in suspected hate crime: 'They yelled N-word'

Althea Bernstein was listening to music at a stoplight when the men allegedly called her the N-word and then sprayed her with lighter fluid

                            Biracial woman set on fire by 4 white men at Wisconsin stoplight in suspected hate crime: 'They yelled N-word'
(Getty Images)

WISCONSIN: An 18-year-old biracial woman was allegedly set her on fire by four white men. The case is being investigated as a hate crime. The woman, Althea Bernstein, was sprayed with lighter fluid early morning on June 24. Bernstein suffered second and third-degree burns after the men set her on fire, reveals. 

The men then threw a lighter at her face while she was inside her car. Bernstein revealed that the men had also yelled a racial slur before the attack took place. While speaking to Madison 365 in an interview, she said, "I was listening to some music at a stoplight and then all of a sudden I heard someone yell the N-word really loud. 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," she shared. "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 and Middleton," she continued. 

The Madison police released an official report which read, "The MPD is investigating an assault on an 18-year-old biracial woman as a hate crime after she was burned with lighter fluid early Wednesday morning.  The victim believes she was driving on W Gorham St when she stopped for a red light at State St. Her driver’s side window was down and she heard someone yell out a racial epithet. She looked and saw four men, all white," the report reads. 

"She says 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," the report stated. "She drove forward, patted out the flames, and eventually drove home. Her mother encouraged her to go to a hospital. 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. Investigators are looking at surveillance images to see if any of the assault was captured on camera," the report continued. 

Bernstein said, "Once it happened I don't even remember anything, but your brain still has that fight or flight response that takes care of you. So I made it home, I called my mom, I drove myself to the ER."

She also spoke about how it felt to be a victim of a racist attack in her own hometown. She revealed that she could not really comprehend what had happened initially. "I grew up in Madison, on the Eastside, and my dad would take me to the Farmer’s Market every weekend, on those same streets. It just felt so weird to have these really happy memories there, and then now to have this memory that sort of ruined all of the childhood memories. I never really knew someone could hate you just by looking at you. They didn’t know me. I didn’t know them. I was just driving my car and minding my own business," she said. 

Anyone with information on this crime is asked to contact Madison Area Crime Stoppers at (608) 266-6014 or on

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