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Man sets self afire at Long Beach City Hall

Times Staff Writers

A 50-year-old Fountain Valley man walked into Long Beach City Hall on Thursday afternoon and set himself on fire, authorities said, prompting an evacuation of hundreds of workers from the downtown high-rise.

The man was hospitalized in critical condition.

A large white shopping bag containing a box-shaped item -- initially thought to have been dropped by the man -- was discovered near the scene, briefly prompting a bomb scare. But experts determined it was not an explosive device, and, without disclosing what the bag held, officials said it may have been left behind by someone who fled the building when the incident occurred.

Authorities said the man, alternately identified as Ha Ouy Nguyen and Haouy Nguyen, was not believed to be a city employee or contractor. They were still trying to determine his motivation for the act.

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Long Beach Police Department spokeswoman Nancy Pratt said Nguyen entered through the main entrance of the building in the 300 block of West Ocean Boulevard about 3:30 p.m. She said he made a brief, unspecified remark at the information desk and then set himself ablaze.

Officials said Nguyen was quickly tackled by a civilian Police Department security employee stationed in the main lobby of the building. With the help of at least one other city employee, he put out the flames.

Paramedics rushed Nguyen to St. Mary Medical Center, where he was being treated for first-, second- and third-degree burns to 40% or more of his body, said Capt. Mike Duree of the Long Beach Fire Department. “He was in severe distress,” Duree said.

A St. Mary spokesman said Nguyen had been transferred to a burn unit at another medical center.

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The Police Department employee who tackled Nguyen, Steven Covarubias, also was taken to St. Mary, where he was treated for minor burns to his hands and released.

All the employees in the 14-story building were evacuated within about 45 minutes of the incident. Officials said City Hall would reopen this morning.

Mayor Bob Foster, who was not at City Hall when the incident occurred, said he rushed back when he heard what had happened. Foster said witnesses apparently saw the man douse himself with gasoline before setting himself on fire, but neither police nor fire officials could confirm that account.

The mayor said many of the city employees who saw the incident were very upset and that counselors would be brought in to talk with them.

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stuart.silverstein@latimes.com

marla.cone@latimes.com


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