Monday, February 19 , 2018, 8:14 pm | Fair 48º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Friend of Burned Homeless Man Speaks Out

As Alexander Mansfield continues to recover in Los Angeles, a friend fears the case will be closed

When a friend left him early in the evening of April 28, Alexander Mansfield thought he had found a safe and secluded place to sleep. The 37-year-old homeless man had created a small shelter under some ivy growing adjacent to Highway 101, and spent the night there in his sleeping bag. All of his belongings were by his side.

It wasn’t until early the next morning that his friend, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, found the charred remains of the camp and realized something had gone terribly wrong the night before.

Around 3 a.m. April 29, Mansfield suffered burns on more than 60 percent of his body, according to police reports. The Santa Barbara Police Department dispatch received a call about a small brush fire near the camp where the man was sleeping that night, according to a police report. When firefighters arrived, Mansfield was sitting on the side of the road, wearing only a pair of shorts, holding his arms in the air with his body badly burned. Medics transported him to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, and he has since been relocated to a burn center in Los Angeles.

Mansfield’s friend searched frantically for him, but all she saw was the foam the firefighters had used to put out the blaze, strewn about the camp. Mansfield was nowhere to be found.

After running from the camp to find help, she spied a firefighter running nearby and asked him what had happened the night before. He told her a man had been inside of the burning camp and had been transported to a burn center.

Before leaving the charred camp, she noticed that some of the ivy covering Mansfield’s belongings had been ripped apart, and several items were missing.

It’s unclear whether Mansfield’s burns were an accident, self-inflicted or the result of a hate crime. Whatever the cause, the results are the same: He has been in a coma for more than a month and has undergone intensive surgery for his burns, some of which are worse than third degree.

Mansfield’s friend is also homeless and told Noozhawk that she left Mansfield early on that April evening, just hours before he suffered the burns. Her friend had chosen to sleep alone in a secluded area just north of the Haley Street on-ramp to Highway 101, she said.

Many homeless people choose to sleep in those secluded areas because they feel safer, but the very fact that most are remote lends vulnerability to those who camp there. Mansfield’s friend said she felt the area was safe, as well, and considered staying there overnight, but decided against it.

With few leads and with Mansfield unable to talk about what may have happened, the police and fire departments have filed a report indicating a “suspicious circumstance.” Although the case remains active, his friend says she’s afraid the police won’t continue the investigation.

Further complicating the case, his friend said Mansfield had struggled with depression in the past. But he had been responding well to medication, she said, and believes that medication caused Mansfield to slip into a sound sleep that may have prevented him from waking up until he was on fire. She said he was always careful with fire, and doesn’t believe the burns are self-inflicted.

“There is an arsonist on the loose,” she said. “I don’t think keeping this a secret will help anyone.”

Mansfield often could be seen playing his guitar outside of the Metro 4 Theaters, 618 State St. According to his friend, he had been homeless since his parents abandoned him as a child, and had had difficulty obtaining a birth certificate and identification, required for most work.

Sixteen homeless deaths have occurred in Santa Barbara this year, and the circumstances around Mansfield’s injuries have only added to the climate of fear among the city’s homeless. “This could happen to someone else if this person is not caught and brought to justice,” his friend said.

Gina Sunseri, the fire inspector investigating the case, said that although Mansfield has been upgraded to stable condition from critical, he still has a tube in his mouth, which has prevented investigators from talking to him about the incident. She said there were no leads in the case so far.

Mansfield continues to undergo surgeries and skin grafts at the burn center. His friend has been unable to visit him because she lacks transportation, but hopes to see him soon.

“This is going to be a long, painful recovery,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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