LOS ANGELES -- For more than 10 years, the homeless woman slept on the same plastic bus stop bench at a busy intersection in the San Fernando Valley, no matter how cold it was or if it was raining.
The 67-year-old woman, described by one church volunteer who saw her regularly as the "sweetest lady on the street," was nestled in her regular spot early Thursday when the unthinkable happened: A man came out of a nearby drug store, doused her with a flammable liquid and set her ablaze.
She was taken to a nearby hospital, where she was listed in critical condition.
A witness called 911, and police arrested Dennis Petillo, 24, a short time later. He was booked for investigation of attempted murder and was held on $500,000 bail. Police provided no possible motive and released no details on Petillo. The victim's name also was withheld.
The attack shocked residents, and later Thursday about a dozen people held vigil around the charred bench, urging motorists to honk their horns in support of homeless rights.
Last week, a 55-year-old man was seriously injured when he was torched as he slept outside a doughnut shop in Norwalk. Two months earlier, Long Beach police said Jacob Timothy Lagarde, 27, threw a lit Molotov cocktail at a man who had been waiting for his father outside a store. Lagarde has been charged with attempted murder.
Los Angeles police are investigating whether Petillo might be tied to any other similar crimes, but at this point detectives don't believe he is.