Woman Who Set Self Afire Dies; Husband's Condition Still Critical

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 66-year-old Westminster woman, who had set herself afire after dousing her sleeping husband with boiling water, died Tuesday at UCI Medical Center.

Phuc Nguyen, who left a note in Vietnamese explaining that she was distraught over health problems, suffered second- and third-degree burns over 70% of her body when she ignited rubbing alcohol and lighter fluid she poured on her head and shoulders Saturday night.

An investigator with the Orange County Coroner's office said an autopsy on Nguyen is scheduled for today.

Before setting herself afire, Nguyen poured scalding water on her 74-year-old husband, To Hoang, who was asleep on the couch. When Hoang awoke, he extinguished the fire on his wife of 47 years and dialed 911, speaking with Nguyen on the couch while they waited for help.

A spokeswoman for UCI Medical Center, where both Nguyen and Hoang were taken, said Tuesday that the man was still in critical condition, with second- and third-degree burns over 25% of his body.

Nguyen had been depressed by her deteriorating health, including high blood pressure, for which she had been hospitalized earlier this month, family members said.

"She just wanted a way out," Nguyen's daughter, Hoa Hoang, said after the fire. "She didn't feel well. She was complaining about the illness all the time," the Long Beach resident said. "It's sad that it's come to this."

Hoa Hoang was one of several family members who kept a vigil outside her parents' hospital rooms.

Henry Hoang of Cypress, who was at his mother's bedside, said: "I think it was for the best that she died as she did," rather than survive with such serious burns and the prospect of criminal charges.

The parents, who fled Vietnam in 1975 and moved to Orange County in 1979, lived in a gated, townhouse community in northeastern Westminster.

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