Homeless man recovering from burn attack
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) -- James Lemmon has a message for others who sleep on the streets in the Eugene-Springfield area. "The message is, 'Watch your frickin' back,'" Lemmon, 43, said Tuesday from a hospital bed at Sacred Heart Medical Center at River...
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) -- James Lemmon has a message for others who sleep on the streets in the Eugene-Springfield area.
"The message is, 'Watch your frickin' back,'" Lemmon, 43, said Tuesday from a hospital bed at Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, where he is recovering from second-degree burns suffered when police say an unknown assailant lit his coat on fire last weekend in downtown Eugene.
"If this can happen to me with 20 years on the streets, it can happen to anyone," said Lemmon, who is also known as James Kaiser.
The disturbing attack on Lemmon is the latest in a series of crimes against homeless people in Eugene.
Three local transients have been killed in the city this year, although police have not characterized any of those incidents as crimes in which suspects intentionally targeted people because they were homeless.
While investigators say they don't know what motivated Lemmon's attacker, the longtime Eugene man believes he's the victim of a hate crime.
"I do think this guy did this to me because I'm homeless," Lemmon said.
Lemmon spent the wee hours of Saturday morning panhandling in front of Rock N Rodeo, a restaurant and bar on East Seventh Avenue where he said he made about $20 that night.
He left the area and was walking his bicycle along East Broadway about 3 a.m. when someone unexpectedly bumped him from behind.
"I started to turn and say 'What's up?' but before I could, my whole arm went whoosh and burst into flames," he recalled. "It smelled like gasoline to me."
Lemmon dropped to the ground and rolled around to put out the fire. He then staggered to the nearby Campus Inn, where an employee he knows called for help.
Police and medics arrived a few minutes later, and detectives launched a criminal investigation. They sent his clothing to a crime lab to determine how exactly the fire was set.
While Lemmon -- a hulking, soft-spoken man -- admits he's had more than his share of scrapes with the law over the years, he feels that police are working hard to identify the person who caused serious burns to his left hand, arm, neck and face.
"They do want to catch the S.O.B.," Lemmon said.