Local News

Police: Suspect in Homeless Woman’s Burning Mentally Ill

VAN NUYS, Calif. (KTLA) –A man arrested for allegedly setting a homeless woman on fire while she slept on a Van Nuys bus bench is believed to be mentally ill, police said.

The attack left a 67-year-old homeless woman, known to area residents as Flo Parker, in critical condition. She was also known as Violet.

It happened around 1 a.m. Thursday in front of a Walgreens store at the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Sherman Way.

Police say Dennis Petillo, 24, doused the woman in rubbing alcohol and then set her on fire.

“There was no incident or dispute or clear motivation for this horrific attack. He did not know his victim. It defies explanation,” said LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese.

“He is not of sound mind…. The motive is mental illness,” Albanese added.

Witness Dennis Ipina said he saw the suspect walk out of Walgreens with what appeared to be rubbing alcohol.

“He just poured it all over the old lady,” Ipina said. “Then he threw the match on her and started running.”

Ipina said he chased after the man and called 911 from his cell phone. He also said that he was threatened by the suspect with a knife.

Police arrested Ipina a short time later. He was booked on suspicion  of attempted murder and was being held on $500,000 bail.

Since 2008, he has pleaded guilty twice to charges related to vehicle theft, court records show. The second time, he was sentenced to two years in prison.