Georgia man flicked lighter near gas tank, setting wife ablaze, officials say

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By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News

A Georgia man was arrested after he flicked his cigarette lighter near the gas tank of his truck and touched off an explosion and fire that left his wife with second- and third-degree burns to her head, arms and legs, authorities said.

The man, Austin Dawkins, 37, was captured in surveillance video on Oct. 16 at a gas station in the town of Clarksville, about 85 miles outside Atlanta. He was charged with reckless conduct and could face a year in prison.

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In the video, released Monday by the state fire commissioner’s office, Dawkins is gassing up the truck when his wife, identified by authorities as Jessica Dawkins, walks over to talk to him.

He flicks the lighter once in the air, then moves it near the tank, igniting a small explosion. As the wife jumps back, Dawkins pulls the gasoline nozzle from the tank, and before he drops it, flaming gasoline shoots toward the woman. She runs off on fire.

Jessica Dawkins, 30, was released from the hospital after 11 days, said Glenn Allen, a spokesman for Ralph Hudgens, the Georgia insurance and fire commissioner. She has scarring and has lost a lot of hair, he said.

Dawkins told investigators that he was playing around when he flicked the lighter, Allen said. Jessica Dawkins has declined to speak with investigators, said Eddie Staples, chief assistant district attorney for Habersham County.

Investigators are still looking into it, but “at the present time it looks like reckless conduct,” he said in a telephone interview. He said that authorities have no evidence of intention to harm, which could have led to a more serious charge.

Dawkins is jailed and could appear in court as early as Wednesday. Authorities said they had no information on who might represent him. There was no answer Monday at a listing for the Dawkinses.