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Suspect held in fiery attack on man

The parolee is accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail at the victim as he sat outside a Long Beach store. Police say no motive is known.

October 25, 2012|By Ruben Vives and Robert J. Lopez, Los Angeles Times
  • Deputy Chief Robert Luna of the Long Beach police speaks during a news conference announcing an arrest in the investigation of an attack with a fire bomb.
Deputy Chief Robert Luna of the Long Beach police speaks during a news conference… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

A parolee with a lengthy criminal history has been arrested in connection with a Molotov cocktail attack that left a 54-year-old man critically burned in Long Beach, authorities said Wednesday afternoon.

Jacob Lagarde, 27, a Long Beach resident with a history of drug and violent offenses, is suspected of throwing the fire bomb at the man as he sat outside a store in the 200 block of West Pacific Coast Highway on Friday evening, police said at a news conference. Lagarde was taken into custody Tuesday night and was described by police as an affiliate of a street gang.

A relative of the victim told The Times that the family was happy an arrest had been made. Police told family members that the suspect lived in the same apartment building as the victim, according to the relative.

The attack horrified bystanders, who saw the man screaming as flames engulfed his body, and shocked city officials, who pledged to pursue all leads to find the attacker.

The assailant ran up to the victim and threw an object that exploded into a bright ball of flames, according to a surveillance video released by police. The attacker quickly fled.

Witnesses told The Times this week that they saw the attacker as he used a cigarette lighter to ignite a bottle with a flammable liquid and toss it toward the victim, whom they knew as Raul. Police have not released his full name.

"The bottle broke near Raul's neck, and the gasoline spread all over his body," Berta Salcedo said.

Raul was engulfed in flames as he ran wildly in the parking lot of the market and bystanders tried to help, according to Salcedo.

"I was shocked," she said. "People were telling him not to run because they were trying to help him put out the flames."

Gregorio Valdivia, 58, who was waiting for his wife, heard screaming and turned to see a man on fire.

Valdivia said he ran to Raul while removing his shirt, which he used to help put out the flames.

"The first thing I did was remove his jacket," Valdivia said. "I couldn't remove his pants, so I started tearing pieces of it off."

Sgt. Aaron Eaton said Wednesday afternoon that investigators had not determined a motive for the attack. He said police were planning to submit the case to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office but were still seeking additional witnesses.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Long Beach Fire Department arson hotline at (562) 570-2582.

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