LONSBERRY: The Story Of Steve, Who Got Set On Fire On Friday


Steve and Marie came here from Texas.

               She died two months ago, in their apartment, on Lyell Avenue. He died this morning, at Strong, in the burn unit.

               They set him on fire last Friday at half past noon. Squirted him with the liquid, there in the chair in his apartment, and lit him on fire.

               A 14-year-old and a 16-year-old.

               At least that’s what the police say.

               It might have had to do with drugs. But that’s getting ahead of things.

               Steve and Marie came here from Texas. She was deaf and mute, though when angry, like when the prostitutes lingered out front of their apartment’s door, she would raise her voice and communicate her sentiments, her arms waving and everyone running.

               She and Steve communicated through American Sign Language, and it was the two of them there in the apartment, with her ex-husband, Jeff, and another guy named Bill. The four of them, all together, because it’s better to crowd into a crap apartment than it is to sleep on the street.

               And, while “crap apartment” is pretty subjective, the odds are the building’s owner won’t be too upset because, according to most around the building, he doesn’t live in this country.

               Steve didn’t work. Not in a conventional way. He went through some sort of job training once, to satisfy the welfare people, but it didn’t take. He helped his landlord sometimes, and he helped another man who sells stuff at flea markets. Sometimes he worked for cigarettes.

               He had diabetes pretty bad, and took insulin, and was in and out of the hospital, and he’d lost a toe to the disease.

               When Marie’s mother died, there was a little bit of money that came in, and Steve got a license and bought a truck off the son of a friend. And then one day the truck wasn’t around and somebody asked and Steve said that he had run out of gas and he didn’t have any money so he left it.

               That probably wasn’t true, and some wondered if there was a prostitute involved.

               The flea market man set a goal for 2020 to get Steve an actual paying job. But it never got done.

               “He knew the system,” a friend said, “how to work it. Let’s just say ‘free’ was his favorite word.”

               But he wasn’t a crook, and he wasn’t a thief. A liar, sure, probably. “You never believed everything Steve said,” a sometime employer remembered, but "he wasn’t a bad guy."

               “He had his own way,” a friend said. “He was always smiling. He never harmed anybody.

               “But he was vulnerable.”

               Especially after Marie died.

               “She kept him in check,” a friend said. “But when she passed, he fell apart.”

               Like I said, that was two months ago. And in those two months, things maybe got dicey.

               The two young men accused of setting him on fire were in and out of his apartment. People across the street and in the drug community believe heroin was selling out of either the apartment or the street in front of it. Nobody thinks Steve was a dealer, but it’s possible he was looking the other way, at least for a while.

               “I knew he was heartbroken by her passing,” a friend said. “He didn’t take care of himself. And he just got mixed up with the wrong people.”

               Folks across the street thought that “no good was going on” and they report that a couple of times he had turned up in recent weeks looking like he had been beaten, with a black eye or whatever.

               And then Friday at half past noon the 911 call came in about a burning man and the letter carrier trying to put him out. Engine 5 from Lyell and Child came and so did AMR and they did everything they could, and so did the people at the Strong burn unit.

               They had sprayed him with something and set him on fire and, some say, stood there and watched.

               “The bottom line is, nobody deserves that,” a friend said. “No matter what they did.”

               It was 70% of his body and it was second and third degree and pieces of his skin were left on the sidewalk.

               And you don’t survive that.

               And today Steve died.

               And nobody could quite remember his last name.