Man pours gasoline on himself, lights cigarette outside Petaluma hospital

A Fort Bragg man poured gasoline on himself and lit a cigarette after being confronted by Petaluma police Tuesday evening outside of Petaluma Valley Hospital, where officers got him to put out the cigarette and then tackled him, according to police.

The 57-year-old man had walked into the hospital’s emergency department waiting room with three beverage bottles full of the flammable liquid and threatened to set himself on fire, prompting a call to police and firefighters just after 6 p.m.

Three officers and a sergeant arrived and found he’d left the building but was sitting at a nearby picnic table. The man told officers his intentions and then doused himself with the fluid and lit the cigarette. The officers talked to him, while quietly making a plan to get him to drop the cigarette and then get to him before he could try again, Petaluma police Lt. Tim Lyons said Wednesday.

One officer had a fire extinguisher, another a non-lethal bean bag gun, and Petaluma firefighters waited nearby, out of sight.

After about 10 minutes the man put out the cigarette and the four officers made their move, Lyons said.

“Everyone went flying, they launched at him so quick, they all went over the bench, the officers and him,” Lyons said. “Nobody got hurt.”

The man was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation and treatment.

Tuesday’s call was unusual in its extreme nature but Petaluma officers respond multiple times a day to calls involving people with mental health issues, Lyons said. Officers work with Sonoma County’s mental health mobile support team, which partners with law enforcement for such calls. This one unfolded too fast for the mobile team to be involved, police said.

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