Police investigators have determined a fire that engulfed a homeless man on a Ventura beach was likely accidental, despite the man’s claim that three men poured lighter fluid on him and ignited the blaze, authorities announced Friday.
The incident was reported shortly before 11 p.m. on Jan. 17, when a good Samaritan found 58-year-old John Frazier near the south end of Seaward Avenue (map). Frazier’s “entire upper torso was on fire,” according to the Ventura Police Department.
The bystander used sand to extinguish the flames, which left the homeless man with second- and third-degree burns to his torso and face, police said. Frazier was taken to Community Memorial Hospital and was later transferred to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.
No corroborating evidence was found to support the burn victim’s initial account that he was set ablaze by three men while sleeping in his sleeping bag, the Police Department said in a Friday news release.
In the aftermath of the incident, a makeshift memorial was erected at the scene and authorities released surveillance photos of three people described as persons of interest in the case.
In a follow-up interview with detectives, however, Frazier changed his description of the episode, the department said. Information from a witness contradicted the man’s initial statement and “raised doubt about this being a criminal act,” the news release said.
Police detectives consulted with investigators from the Ventura city and county fire departments regarding the burn pattern of the sleeping bag fabric and Frazier’s clothing.
“After extensive testing it was determined that the fire most likely started inside the bag, and the bag burned from the inside out,” the release said, adding that tests at a Ventura County sheriff’s crime lab found no fire accelerants on the fabric.
Frazier remained hospitalized Friday and was expected to recover.