[UPDATED with Lawsuit:] Hector Manuel Medina, Mechanic, Sets Transient Ruben Sandoval on Fire

UPDATE, AUG. 10, 8:38 A.M.: Over the objections of prosecutors, who wanted Hector Manuel Medina sentenced to 11 years in prison, the mechanic got five years for setting a 64-year-old transient on fire last year.

But victim Ruben Sandoval, a military victim who suffered third-degree burns to his face and arms and had all the possessions in his shopping cart incinerated, seeks to right what he sees as another injustice by going after Medina's employer.

Because Bridgestone Americas' Firestone Complete Auto Care had a policy forbidding transients from loitering near the building at 101 S. Main St., Santa Ana, 32-year-old Medina felt empowered to douse Sandoval's cart with gasoline and set it ablaze, according to the victim's personal injury lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court.

Sandoval, who had sometimes lived with his sister in Garden Grove but would often drift back out to the streets, spent six months undergoing treatment at Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks after the tragedy, according to his lawyer, who adds his client underwent multiple skin grafts.

Firestone and Medina are named in the suit that alleges negligence and seeks $1.5 million to cover medical and other costs as well as an unspecified amount for punitive damages.

ORIGINAL UPDATED POST, FEB. 22, 2010, 6:37 P.M.: Mechanic Hector Manuel Medina previously shooed a homeless man away from the alley behind Medina's Santa Ana auto shop. When the 32-year-old saw the 64-year-old transient in the alley two weeks later, the mechanic got a gas canister from his shop, doused the homeless man and his shopping cart with gasoline and lit them on fire.

The Orange County District Attorney's office, which advocated an 11-year prison term for Medina, explains below its objection to the five-year sentence he:

Feb. 22

SANTA ANA - An automobile mechanic was sentenced today to five years in state prison for lighting a transient and his possessions on fire after dousing the victim's shopping cart with gasoline. Hector Manuel Medina, 32, Santa Ana, pleaded guilty to a court offer to one felony count of arson causing great bodily injury with a sentencing enhancement for arson with an accelerant. The People objected to the five year sentence, advocating for an 11-year prison sentence based on the severity of the victim's injuries.

On Jan. 2, 2010, Medina was working as a mechanic at Firestone Complete Auto Care at 100 S. Main Street in Santa Ana. At approximately 3:45 p.m., the defendant saw 64-year-old transient Ruben Sandoval in the alley behind the auto shop. Medina became angry because the victim was back in the area after the defendant had warned him to leave and not return after finding Sandoval sleeping in Medina's car on a rainy day two weeks earlier.

Medina took a gas canister from the garage, approached the victim and his shopping cart, and doused the cart with gasoline. Some of the gasoline splashed from the cart onto Sandoval. Medina then lit the cart on fire with a match. All of the contents of Sandoval's cart were destroyed, including all of his clothes, blankets, and food. Flames from the cart jumped and lit the victim's beard on fire. Sandoval attempted to put out the flames on his face and caught fire to his hands. A co-worker at the auto shop called 9-1-1. Medina fled the scene and was arrested shortly thereafter near his home.

Sandoval suffered second and third degree burns to his body, face, and hands. The victim continues to be hospitalized on a ventilator and is unable to breathe on his own as a result of these injuries as well as preexisting medical conditions.

During the sentencing, the defendant's sister, Sue Deleon Alarcon, gave an impact statement to the court. She explained, "Every time I go see my brother he cries. I go home crying, but I don't let him see me [in tears]." Alarcon stated that she can't sleep at night for fear that the phone will ring and she will hear that something bad has happened to her brother.

Deputy District Attorney Andrew Katz of the Special Prosecutions Unit prosecuted this case.


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