Woman with lighter at gas pump appeared ready to set self ablaze

Police responded Friday to the Circle K at Savage Road and U.S. Highway 17 after a woman was seen holding a lighter to a gas pump. Buy this photo

A woman leaned back against a pump at a gas station — holding the gas pump hose in one hand, flicking a cigarette lighter with the other.

Terrified customers pulled each other away at the Circle K convenience store at 2300 Savannah Highway. Two men kept telling the woman, “You don’t need to do this. You don’t need to do this” as they stood by cars at pumps nearby.

The Friday afternoon horror scene was one flick from becoming an inferno.

“She wasn’t very angry or anything. She was mellow, like depressed. You know how a little kid plays with something when they’re bored? That’s the look she had on her face,” said Cody Prickett of West Ashley, who lives near the station and had stopped in to use the ATM.

Prickett, 28, a former Marine and a prison guard at the Naval Weapons Station, jumped back in his Dodge truck and blocked one of the station’s entrances. “So there wouldn’t be any more casualties,” he said.

As onlookers gathered, the two men at the pumps, identified by police as Michael Anthony Smith and John Smith Jr., kept talking to the woman, who wore a dark shirt and blue jeans. She occasionally snapped back angrily at them.

“She looked very wild-eyed,” said Lisa Page, who had pulled into the station with her 11-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter to witness a situation like nothing she had ever experienced.

For 20 long minutes, the men and the woman talked. Then she put the lighter and the pump on the ground.

“The next thing I know, the two men rushed her,” Page said.

One knocked the pump handle away, and the other pulled away the woman, Page said.

They held her to the ground until police arrived. The 41-year-old woman was taken to St. Francis Hospital where she was taken into emergency protective custody, said Charles Francis of Charleston police.

“I have no idea what was going on in her mind,” Prickett said.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

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