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Cop fires Taser, man's jacket ignites

The jacket of a Ripon man burst into flames when an officer fired a Taser at him Saturday morning after the man, who was driving a stolen motorcycle, led officers in a two-mile pursuit in Modesto, police said.

Modesto police Sgt. Craig Plante said Rocky Snell, 31, was not injured. He said Snell did not complain of pain when he was examined by officers, and a nurse at the Stanislaus County Jail confirmed Snell was not injured.

Plante said the flames partially singed the left front of Snell's hair and his left eyebrow. He said Snell was arrested on suspicion of vehicle theft and evading a peace officer.

The three officers, who jumped on Snell and put out the fire, also were not injured, Plante said. After Snell was in custody, the officers learned the fire started when gasoline from the motorcycle had spilled on Snell before the Taser was used to deliver an electric jolt to subdue him.

The fiery incident started at 6:10 a.m. when an officer spotted Snell driving a 2002 Yamaha motorcycle near Tully Road and West Orangeburg Avenue in central Modesto, police said.

Plante said the motorcycle's headlight was not on, so the officer attempted a traffic stop. Snell refused to stop and the chase started, police said. Plante said he did not know the speeds reached during the chase.

The chase ended shortly after it started near the railroad crossing just east of College Avenue and West Rumble Road near Davis Community Park.

Plante said the motorcycle hit the side of a police car, but officers still were investigating the crash.

"The motorcycle bounces off the car, then the motor- cycle just fell on its side," Plante said.

Snell ran from the officers, Plante said. The officers didn't know that the motorcycle's gas cap was off when the bike crashed.

Gasoline spilled out of the gas tank and onto Snell's jacket, Plante said.

"It was a gas cap that had a lock," Plante said. "He might have pried it off to keep putting gas into the motorcycle, but I'm just guessing on that."

The officers got out of their cars and chased Snell, who kept running when the officers ordered him to stop, police said. Modesto police spokesman Sgt. Brian Findlen said officer Cameron Cromwell pulled out a Taser and fired it at Snell.

Darts hit puffy jacket

A Taser resembles a handgun and shoots darts that deliver 50,000 volts of electricity.

Plante said the Taser darts hit Snell's puffy, black Raiders jacket. He said flames immediately ignited on the jacket and spread toward Snell's head.

It appears that the Taser's electrical current ignited the gasoline on Snell's jacket, Plante said.

For a second, the officers watched in shock as the fire erupted, Plante said. A suspect is not supposed to catch fire when using a Taser, he said.

Officers Cromwell, Larry Meyer and Bradley Beavers quickly got over their surprise and leapt to put out the flames.

"They pushed the man to the ground and ripped off his jacket," Plante said. "They stomped on the jacket and put out the fire. They were now in lifesaving mode."

He said the officers quickly went back to apprehension mode after the fire was out and handcuffed Snell, who was taken into custody without further incident.

Snell was expected to be booked at the Stanislaus County Jail, police said.

His family could not be reached for comment Saturday evening.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.