Update: A Modesto man critically injured Wednesday morning after setting himself on fire has died, the Stanislaus County Coroner’s Office said Thursday morning.
The original story follows: A Modesto man was critically injured Wednesday morning after setting himself on fire in an apparent suicide attempt, according to his sister.
Molly Maddox, 71, said her brother, Kent Mickelson, 69, had been talking about killing himself recently. The two have lived together for four years, since he retired from his job in the Bay Area.
Firefighters were called to the 1300 block of Grinnell Street, located near Roosevelt Junior High School, at about 10:30 a.m. When they arrived, the man was down on the front lawn of his house.
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Modesto Fire Department Division Chief Alan Ernst said Mickelson suffered second- and third-degree burns over nearly 80 percent of his body. He was taken by ambulance to nearby Roosevelt Junior High, where he was to be airlifted to a burn trauma center, Ernst said. However, medical responders determined he was not stable enough to be airlifted, so he remained in the ambulance and was taken to Doctors Medical Center.
We live with our cellphones on our hips night and day, and then something like this happens and you don’t have it.
Jeremy Wright, who raced to help his burning neighbor, realizing he didn’t have his phone when he went to dial 911. Others dialed as he helped the fire victim.
Mickelson apparently doused himself with an accelerant and set himself on fire on the front porch, Maddox said.
Modesto Fire Department Battalion Chief Randy Anderson said a melted container on the front porch may have held the accelerant.
A neighbor across the street, Jeremy Wright, said he heard an explosion and went outside to see Mickelson standing and fully engulfed in flames.
Mickelson was screaming in pain, asking to be killed, Wright said. The neighbor raced back inside his home to get blankets, water and a fire extinguisher.
When he ran across the street, Mickelson still was standing, so Wright told him to lie down. “I told him, ‘I can’t put you out if you’re standing up.’ ” Mickelson was cooperative and lay down on his back, Wright said.
Wright also feared that a container of gasoline burning nearby “was going to pop.” He wanted to move Mickelson but didn’t know how to go about it, so he risked being near the gas. He put a blanket on Mickelson to smother flames, occasionally lifting it to see if he was making progress. Because of the accelerant, the flames were not easy to extinguish, Wright said.
He flipped the blanket a couple of times, fearing if he kept it in place, it would catch fire. Wright said he tried to calm and assure Mickelson. “I told him he was going to be OK, that it didn’t look bad.”
I’ve seen burns before, but I’ve never seen in my life anything like this.
Elizabeth Carota, neighbor and ER nurse who saw Mickelson on his lawn
Wright’s dad, and possibly other neighbors, called 911. “I didn’t want to leave him,” Wright said. “We were still having some sort of dialogue that tells me he’s still conscious. … I never left his side.”
Maddox said her brother twice recently went to San Francisco, intent on jumping off a bridge, but returned. She said he recently lost any desire to live, and nothing – TV, movies, day trips, including one to Yosemite they took Tuesday – interested him.
“This is what he wanted,” she said of his attempt to kill himself. “He waited until we took our dogs in for grooming” to to do it.
She said she was in a back room of the house and realized what was happening when she got a call from a neighbor that the house was on fire. Firefighters said the house was not damaged.
A friend of Maddox and Mickelson’s, Freddy Soto, was hosing and sweeping the siblings’ porch after firefighters were done at the scene. He said he’s known Mickelson for years and only in the past two months has his behavior been “different.” He’d not been eating or sleeping well, and tried a couple of times to kill himself.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. It’s available 24 hours.