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WeHo Halloween burning death was accidental, sheriff's probe finds

HalloweenArts and CultureCedars-Sinai Medical Center

An investigation into how a man burned to death at West Hollywood’s annual Halloween carnival has confirmed witness statements that he accidentally set himself ablaze while lighting a cigarette, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced.

Video from the event shows Gilbert Estrada, 51, engulfed in flames while some festival-goers continued to dance to electronic music and cheer.

A department investigation revealed Estrada “attempted to light some type of cigarette and accidentally caught his costume on fire,” according to a statement released Thursday.

PHOTOS: West Hollywood Halloween costume carnival

Estrada, whose family told police that he attended the festival every year, was dressed as a sniper in camouflage, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Det. Richard Biddle said. The costume apparently was made of burlap sacks and straw.

“It's really thin and flammable,” Biddle told The Times. “That stuff could ignite pretty fast.”

According to Biddle, a bystander recounted seeing Estrada accidentally ignite the hood of his Halloween costume with a cigarette lighter. When Estrada pulled the hood off his head, the flames spread to his back, eventually engulfing his whole body, the bystander said.

Estrada's family has established an online fundraiser for the cost of his funeral.

The video posted on YouTube shows Estrada lying unresponsive after the fire was extinguished.

As Estrada flails, some bystanders can be heard cheering. Others help put out the flames. One bystander recorded the scene with a cellphone camera and posted it on YouTube.

Festival-goer Derek Easley said Estrada came out of nowhere, fully engulfed in flames ”like a torch.”

They threw him to the ground to smother the blaze, said Easley, who took off his jacket to protect his hands and beat out the fire.

The man’s skin was visible through holes burned into his still-flaming pants, so they pulled water bottles from their backpacks to douse them, Easley said. Estrada’s hands and arms were scorched and bloody.

“So many people were drunk and partying,” he said. “People were chanting, clapping, filming and taking pictures like it was some kind of cool, funny thing and not realizing it was a guy who was suffering in a really bad condition.”

As revelers took out cellphones and crowded around, Easley said he helped form a perimeter around the man until the police arrived.

Estrada was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead Friday morning, said Lt. Cheryl MacWillie of the Los Angeles County coroner's office.

The department's investigation continues.

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Joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @josephserna

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

@katelinthicum

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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HalloweenArts and CultureCedars-Sinai Medical Center
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