Witnesses Shocked When Man Sets Himself Ablaze

By Maureen Kyle

(LOUISVILLE, June 18th, 2004, 5:30 p.m.) -- A bizarre scene unfolded at Louisville's Hall of Justice Friday morning when a man set himself on fire. WAVE 3's Maureen Kyle was there.

In one hand the man carried a sign reading "WHO'S RESPONSIBLE" and also chanted "Whose Responsible Now" in a thick accent. In the other hand, he had a half-gallon container of gasoline and doused himself with it as he chanted.

A police officer on the scene was able to call for back-up. As more officers arrived, the man appeared to become more anxious. After walking around for about five minutes, he lit the back of his jacket, but then removed it almost immediately.

Sgt. Robert Calbert, of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, said he could smell gasoline when he went to check the situation after getting a call from dispatch. Calbert, who works at the courthouse, went back inside for a fire extinguisher and put the flames out within seconds.

Firefighters also responded and spent about 20 minutes cleaning up.

Maj. Henry Ott, a spokesman for the Louisville Fire Department, identified the man as 48-year-old Morteza Mehrpoubegan, an Iranian refugee. He was taken to a hospital and was in stable condition with minor burns.

People who watched the incident unfold were visibly shaken. "I had to ask for a hug," said Angela Burch. "I was so scared. When I seen him set himself on fire, I just dropped to my knees and prayed to Jesus."

Donna Nunn was just getting a newspaper when the commotion began. "We thought he was going to blow us up. Everybody was scared he was going to blow us up instead of himself."

FBI spokesman David Beyer said an initial investigation by the Joint Terrorism Task Force found that the man was not a terrorist.

"He has some personal issues unrelated to any terrorist matters," Beyer said.

So far, no charges have been filed against the man, who was listed in stable condition at University Hospital with second and third degree burns.

Online Reporter: Maureen Kyle

Online Producer: Michael Dever