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Biracial woman says group of white men set her on fire while she was driving

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An 18-year-old biracial Wisconsin woman  says a group of white men set her on fire while she was driving.

According to a police report, Althea Bernstein, studying to become a paramedic, was attacked while driving in downtown Madison early Wednesday morning. A crowd of 200 to 300 protesters had pulled down two statues outside the state Capitol building and attacked state Sen. Tim Carpenter on the Capitol lawn. Someone also threw a fire bomb into a city-county building, starting a fire.

Bernstein said she was not attending the protests, but she had her window down while stopped at a red light and heard someone yell out a racial slur at her.

She said four white men appeared — two dressed in black and two in Hawaiian shirts — and sprayed her with lighter fluid. One allegedly tossed a flaming lighter at her, setting her neck and face on fire. She said she “blasted” through the red light, patted the fire out and continued to drive to her brother’s home.  She later visited an emergency room, where she said health care workers had to scrub her skin off. She said she will eventually need plastic surgery.

Althea Bernstein told ABC’s “Good Morning America” for a Friday segment that she hasn’t slept and doesn’t have an appetite. But she called the attack in the state’s capital city of Madison a “learning opportunity” for her attackers.

“I’m very, very hopeful that these men sort of see all the responses and that they know that they hurt me and that this is something that’s going to affect me for a while,” she said. “And I really hope that they choose to improve themselves.”

Bernstein also said “I never really knew someone could hate you just by looking at you,”…”They didn’t know me. I didn’t know them. I was just driving my car and minding my own business.”

Investigators are currently investigating the attack as a hate crime with assistance from the FBI, Madison Police spokesman Joel DeSpain said.