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Police: Van fire was 'attempt to end his life'

Cary Ashby • Jan 9, 2018 at 4:13 PM

Authorities have determined Monday morning’s minivan fire was part of a suicide attempt and the burn victim is now a suspect in the ongoing investigation.

Norwalk Police Detective Sgt. Seth Fry re-interviewed the burn victim, a Sandusky man in his 50s, late Monday afternoon. Fry said the man “admitted this was an attempt to end his life.”

“There was no other person. He was the one who started the van on fire,” said the detective, who added nobody in the house was injured. “This (initially) was reported as an assault.”

Police and firefighters responded to the incident at 15 E. Willard Ave. The van, which was engulfed in flames when authorities responded to a 9-1-1 call, was parked in the driveway at the left corner of the house. The siding on the house was melting when first responders arrived.

“It’s my understanding he dates the woman who lives there,” said Fry, referring to the burn victim.

Huron County maintenance worker Mike Armstrong and working supervisor Steve Minor were driving to the nearby county administration building to drop off some paperwork when they noticed the fire. The man, whose name hasn’t been released, was standing by the passenger side of the van.

“He was staying put; he wasn’t doing anything,” Armstrong said. “I was yelling for him to get away from the van. … He was just standing there, staring at the ground.”

Minor and Armstrong asked the man if anybody was inside the van. The man told them there wasn’t, but Minor and Armstrong have said they couldn’t see inside the vehicle due to the flames.

“A gust of wind caught his back on fire,” said Minor, who called 9-1-1. “He dropped to the ground, but he didn’t roll.”

Armstrong has said the man’s sweatshirt caught on fire when “the windows started to blow out from the pressure inside the van.” He and a neighbor dragged the man to the back of the parking lot of the county building, which is about 50 feet away. Minor has said by the time the two men had the burn victim near the stop sign, they rolled him over “to get him extinguished” and “it appeared he didn’t want to leave the van.”

“He was fighting us to get back to the vehicle,” Armstrong said. “I started to throw some snow on him to get the fire out.”

North Central EMS transported the man to Fisher-Titus Medical Center. Fry said the plan was for the man to be released and transferred to a mental-health facility.

The state fire marshal’s office processed the scene Monday. Fry said once he receives the lab results, he will forward them to the Huron County Prosecutor’s Office for review.

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