YAKIMA, Wash. - A woman who escaped serious injury after setting fire to a sweater while sitting in the back seat of a Yakima police car could face charges.
The 24-year-old woman remained hospitalized in satisfactory condition Thursday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where she was airlifted Wednesday after the incident.
"We're not really sure what she was thinking," police spokesman Lt. Mike Merryman said Thursday. "It's certainly an unusual situation."
The incident began shortly before 3:30 p.m. Wednesday when 9-1-1 dispatchers were notified that a woman was being chased by a man with a knife in the 1700 block of Summitview Avenue.
Officers broke into a house at the scene, located directly across the busy boulevard from Roosevelt Elementary School, but initially were unable to locate either the man or the woman, Merryman said.
As officers prepared to leave, the woman walked up and was subsequently patted down for weapons and placed in the patrol car, Merryman said.
Moments later, as officers continued the investigation and the search for the male suspect, a detective noticed the patrol car's windows were fogging up, Merryman said.
The woman had also begun to kick at the doors, he said. As the detective and another officer got to the car, they were alarmed to see smoke seeping out the doors and windows.
The woman was dragged out of the patrol car and rushed to a local hospital suffering from smoke inhalation. Later Wednesday she was airlifted to Harborview.
Merryman said the woman apparently had taken off her sweater, crushed it into a ball and then lit it on fire using a cigarette lighter. The fire burned a hole in the back seat and damaged the door panel. Police said they might seek charges of malicious mischief.
The woman was not in custody, which explains why she had a lighter despite having been detained, Merryman said.
"In a domestic violence situation, until you've got everything laid out you don't know who the primary aggressor is, so that's why we were holding onto her," he said.
"She was searched quickly (with a pat-down), but she's not under arrest, and a lighter isn't normally considered a weapon," added Merryman, who said the male suspect, who is still at large, has been identified and is wanted for questioning.
Neighbors said Thursday they didn't know the woman, and Merryman said he wasn't sure if she lived at the house or was visiting relatives.