By Sara Scheler
Jonathan Rodriguez was attending a relative’s birthday party on Sep. 27 when a stranger committed arson, threatening the 3-year-old birthday girl and party attendees.
Friends and relatives were gathered in a building near 2200 S. Blue Island Ave. that began at 7 p.m.. Rodriguez said, “Everything was fine ‘till around 11:30.” Manuel Mares, 31, walked by the building and asked a relative for some beer. When the relative said no, Mares left.
Mares came back 15 minutes later, Rodriguez said, with a milk jug full of gasoline. He poured the gasoline on the door frame and ignited it with a lighter when he saw Rodriguez’ uncle, Victor, unlocking the door to get out of the building.
Five people, including Rodriguez, his uncle and his mother, ran through the burning door frame and grabbed Mares. “My mother’s hair started on fire,” said Rodriguez. His uncle’s hands were also burned.
While relatives held Mares back, Rodriguez turned around and saw that the children and several parents were unable to escape through the flaming door. He kicked the jug of gasoline away from the door. The jug exploded and his jeans caught fire. “I dove to the ground and rolled,” Rodriguez said. He dislocated his shoulder and got second degree burns on his legs.
A relative called the Chicago Police and Fire Department. Cook County police arrested Mares, who was incarcerated without bail and charged with aggravated arson.