Crowd dances, cheers as man burns during Halloween carnival

<i>This post has been updated. See the note below for details.</i>

Festival-goers can be seen on a video dancing to electronic music and cheering as a man becomes engulfed in flames during West Hollywood’s annual Halloween carnival.

Gilbert Estrada, 51, later died. The video posted on YouTube shows him lying unresponsive after the fire was extinguished. Detectives say it appears Estrada may have accidentally started the fire while trying to light a cigarette.

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 the video website.


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

Some bystanders thought it was a prank or a stunt, he said, but Easley, 32, quickly recognized the man was in “panic mode.” He and several others ripped Estrada’s flaming sweatshirt and jacket off his body, stomping on them to put out the fire as others continued cheering and dancing to music playing at a nearby stage.

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.

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

“It’s really thin and flammable,” Biddle said. “That stuff could ignite pretty fast.”

[Updated 8 a.m. PST, Nov. 5: Biddle said detectives have not yet closed their investigation and were waiting for the results of an autopsy, but it appears the man may have accidentally started the fire himself while trying to light a cigarette.

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.]


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