East Franklin police: 'It appeared to be intentional'
The Ford City woman who caught fire while pumping gas outside Shop 'n Save in Franklin Village Mall on Monday appears to have intentionally set herself ablaze, according to East Franklin Police.
Sgt. William Evans said investigators watched security camera footage of the incident and were able to see Christine Mecca, 51, of Ford City, in the moments leading up to the fire.
"It appeared to be intentional," said Evans. "I think she appeared to intend to do harm to herself."
Evans said Mecca spilled gas on the lower half of her body and ignited the fire which was limited to her clothes. Three men, including truck driver Clifford Fennell of Ford City, rushed and tackled Mecca who was screaming and flailing near a truck delivering fuel to the station.
"All I can do is commend that truck driver for his actions and thank God it wasn't worse," said Evans. "If the fire had spread to the ground, it could've easily went right into the pumps, the tractor trailer and blown up everything in the area. (Fennell) and those other men are heroes in my book."
Evans said Mecca was in shock when he arrived on the scene but able to speak.
"She was asking me for her cell phone and purse," said Evans. "She said, 'I know I'm gonna need my insurance papers.'"
Her husband told Evans that Mecca remains in critical condition at UPMC Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh and sustained burns to 50 percent of her body.
Police are investigating the possibility that Mecca could have been fired from her job earlier in the morning and that she appeared to be holding a piece of paper when she lit herself on fire. A LinkedIn profile for Mecca said she had been a pharmacist at Rite Aid in Ford City since 1997. A representative for the pharmacy would not comment.
"Right now, that's still just a rumor," said Evans. "I contacted the employer and they wouldn't release any information."
If Mecca intentionally set the blaze, Evans said she could face charges of reckless endangerment and risking a catastrophe. That decision will fall to Armstrong County District Attorney Scott Andreassi.
"I told her family just to be thankful she's alive," said Evans. "But I can't stop thinking about what could've happened. If the wind had just blown the other way, so many people could have been killed."