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Man who died at carnival may have accidentally set costume on fire

Officials at first thought foul play might have been involved in the death of Gilbert Estrada at a West Hollywood Halloween celebration.

November 04, 2013|By Kate Linthicum and Samantha Schaefer
  • Gilbert Estrada, 51, burned to death at a crowded Halloween carnival in West Hollywood on Thursday. It was initially thought that foul play might have been involved, but now a detective says Estrada may have accidentally set his costume on fire with a cigarette lighter.
Gilbert Estrada, 51, burned to death at a crowded Halloween carnival in…

A detective investigating the fatal burning of a man at a crowded Halloween carnival said the victim may have accidentally set his costume on fire while trying to light a cigarette.

A video of the incident posted on YouTube shows a man engulfed in flames in the middle of a crowd of people dancing to electronic music at the carnival Thursday night in West Hollywood. As the man flails, some bystanders can be heard cheering. Others helped put out the flames.

Detectives initially thought foul play might have been involved. But Los Angeles County Sheriff's Det. Richard Biddle said witnesses saw the victim, 51-year-old Gilbert Estrada, accidentally ignite the hood of his Halloween costume with a cigarette lighter.

Festival attendee Derek Easley, an actor, writer and producer, said Estrada came out of nowhere, fully engulfed in flames "like a torch."

Some bystanders thought it was a prank or a stunt, he said, but Easley, 32, quickly recognized the man was in "panic mode." He and several others ripped Estrada's flaming sweat shirt and jacket off his body as others continued cheering and dancing to music playing at a nearby stage.

They threw Estrada to the ground to smother the blaze, said Easley, who took off his jacket to protect his hands.

The man's skin was visible through holes burned into his still-flaming pants, so they pulled water bottles from their backpacks to douse them, Easley said. Estrada's hands and arms were scorched and bloody.

"So many people were drunk and partying," he said. "People were chanting, clapping, filming and taking pictures like it was some kind of cool, funny thing and not realizing it was a guy who was suffering in a really bad condition."

Estrada was dressed as a sniper in camouflage, Biddle said. His costume apparently was made of burlap sacks and straw.

"It's really thin and flammable," Biddle said. "That stuff could ignite pretty fast."

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

samantha.schaefer@latimes.com

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