LA police: Fire set on woman 'defies explanation'

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 28, 2012 at 3:16 am •  Published: December 28, 2012
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Police say the attack defies explanation: A man poured flammable liquid on a 67-year-old homeless woman as she slept on a bus bench in the San Fernando Valley, then lit a match and set her on fire.

A witness called 911, and police arrested 24-year-old Dennis Petillo a short time after the Thursday morning attack. He was booked for investigation of attempted murder and was held on $500,000 bail. It wasn't immediately known if he had retained an attorney.

The assailant "just poured it all over the old lady," the witness, Erickson Ipina, told reporters. "Then he threw the match on her and started running."

Police released no details on Petillo. The victim's name also was withheld.

LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese told the Los Angeles Times it was unclear whether attacker spoke to the woman before allegedly setting her ablaze.

"There was no incident or dispute or clear motivation for this horrific attack. He did not know his victim. It defies explanation," Albanese said. "He is not of sound mind. ... The motive is mental illness."

The woman was taken to a hospital, where she was listed in critical condition.

The attack shocked nearby residents, and later Thursday about a dozen people held vigil around the charred bench, urging motorists to honk their horns in support of homeless rights. One sign placed on the bench read, "Our Prayers to Violet," believed to be the victim's first name.

Tej Deol, 31, who resides at a nearby sober living house, said the woman made the bench her home and often could be found sleeping there after sundown. He said he saw her Christmas Eve, getting ready to eat some soup.

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