Charges: Fireball engulfed St. Paul teen's head

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 21, 2011 - 10:52 PM

Curtis E. Reed is accused of chasing Antoine Willis Jr., 19, and spraying lighter fluid as the teen tried to escape.

Curtis E. Reed lit his girlfriend's son on fire and then chased the teenager as he tried to flee, squirting more lighter fluid on him as a basketball-size fireball engulfed his head, charges say.

Reed attacked Antoine Willis Jr., 19, about 7 a.m. Wednesday because the teenager had tried to break up a fight between his mother and Reed, according to a first-degree assault charge filed Thursday in Ramsey County District Court.

Reed, 54, allegedly attacked Willis' mother about 3 a.m. in the family's home in the 1300 block of Ames Avenue in St. Paul. He pushed, hit and threw frozen chicken at her in an attempt to get liquor, the complaint said. Reed allegedly threw a knife at Willis, pushed him and walked toward Willis' mother armed with a frying pan. The teen then grabbed Reed around the neck as two friends punched the man.

"You guys got me, you guys got me," Reed said when they stopped, but warned: "Don't go to sleep."

Worried Reed planned to hurt him, Willis told authorities that he tried to stay awake. Willis, Willis' girlfriend and his mother sat together on a sofa as Reed sat behind them watching, charges said.

Young children were also present and fearful, so they stayed awake playing video games, the complaint says. But the three on the couch fell asleep about 5:30 a.m. Willis woke up to flames on his body.

"I got you!" Reed said. "I got you now!"

Willis, his girlfriend's hair and the couch were on fire. When the teen ran to escape, Reed followed, squirting more lighter fluid.

"I told you not to fall asleep," Reed said.

Willis' mother told police that a fireball the size of a basketball engulfed her son's head as he tried to flee.

Willis ran to a neighbor's house for help while still on fire. (Neighbors said the fire was extinguished by the time the teen arrived.) Reed went to another neighbor's house and called 911 to report himself.

"I did something stupid," he repeatedly said, admitting to officers he had set the teen ablaze. He also said he had taken several pills before the incident.

Willis suffered second- and third-degree burns on his hands, face, neck, torso, scalp and ears. He will likely have permanent injuries, the complaint said. He was in fair condition at Regions Hospital Thursday.

Reed told police that he sat behind Willis and initially planned to attack him with a hammer, but fearing that would kill him, chose to light him on fire instead.

"He claimed the young people were taking over the house and he felt he needed to do something about it," the complaint said.

Reed has been convicted of fifth-degree assault and violating a domestic abuse no-contact order in Anoka County, both involving Willis' mother.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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