Chemistry Teacher Sets Student on Fire, Leaving 15-Year-Old ‘Permanently Disfigured’

August 13, 2019 Updated: August 13, 2019

A Georgia student suffered serious burns after a chemistry teacher set him on fire this month.

Malachi McFadden was in chemistry class at Redan High School on Aug. 6 when his teacher performed an experiment that involved lighting a dollar bill on fire.

“The fire went out of control as expected because there was ethanol in the bowl. And instead of putting water on it to put it out, allegedly the teacher grabbed a jar of ethanol and threw it into the bowl,” attorney Chris Stewart told WSB-TV.

McFadden, 15, suffered third-degree burns all over his body, the lawyer said. “One of your students right here is permanently disfigured because of the actions of the school,” Stewart said.

McFadden told his sister that the teacher tried dousing the flames with water but she mistakenly threw alcohol on him, exacerbating the problem, the sister told WSB-TV.

She said her brother described the feeling as if a torch had lit him on fire.

Stewart said the purpose of the experiment wasn’t clear.

In an email sent to parents and guardians later the same day, principal Janice Boger wrote: “This communication is to inform you of an incident that took place this morning with a lab experiment. During a chemistry experiment, a student was burned from a flame. EMS was called to the scene to provide medical services to the student. Let me take this opportunity to assure you that providing a safe and secure learning environment is a top priority at Redan High School. This is an isolated incident and all safety measures will be reviewed.”

In another statement issued Aug. 9 and obtained by 11 Alive, the DeKalb County School District said a school nurse went with McFadden to the hospital.

“DeKalb County School District is always concerned about the well-being of our students. After the unfortunate event took place, the school nurse accompanied Malachi to the hospital to calm him and provide comfort. In addition, the deputy superintendent went to Redan to provide crisis support for the students who witnessed the incident,” the statement read.

“Since Tuesday, the deputy superintendent, regional superintendent, and principal have been in contact with Malachi’s family. Other members of the Student Support Intervention team will continue to follow up as he recuperates. The district considers this an ongoing investigation.”

No statements have been posted on the district’s website and the school has not commented publicly on what happened.

$60 Million Awarded in Similar Case

A New York jury awarded a student who was set on fire when his chemistry teacher botched an experiment in 2014 nearly $60 million this year.

Alonzo Yanes was 16 when his teacher, Anna Poole, tried to do a so-called “rainbow experiment” but made a mistake. A fireball erupted and engulfed Yanes. He suffered third-degree burns over 30 percent of his body.

Beacon High School principal Ruth Lacey told the court that she “made a mistake” in not properly briefing staff members on safety guidelines before the experiment, reported the New York Post.

Retired Beacon High School vice principal Harry Streep said that Lacey knew the fume hoods in classrooms didn’t work but she said she didn’t know.

“Ultimately I’m in charge of how the school functions. My understanding was that Mr. Streep was in charge of the safety issues but, honestly, I don’t remember.”

The jury ultimately awarded Yanes $59 million.

“They would give back that $59 million in a heartbeat if there was a way the entire event could be undone,” said attorney Ben Rubinowitz, who represented the Yanes family, reported the New York Daily News.

Half of the money was awarded for pain and suffering. The other half was for the pain Yanes will suffer in the future.

Jo Ann Jacobsen, 65, one juror, said that the experiment had burned two students in 2006 in Oklahoma.

“[Yanes’s] testimony was sad because he was trying to be strong. He was 16! He may never have a girlfriend. He may never have a family. I just feel really bad for him,” Jacobsen said. “It’s happened before, so why would you take that chance?”

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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