OKLAHOMA CITY — The maker of Tasers says at least 15 people have caught fire, and five have died, after being stunned while near flammable materials, including an Oklahoma man who was burned beyond recognition after he was shocked and reportedly got into his gasoline-soaked van.
Axon spokesman Steve Tuttle said yesterday the deaths include the man shocked Nov. 7 by a police officer in the town of Lindsey, about 45 miles south of Oklahoma City, although authorities say they are still investigating whether the man may have lit himself on fire.
“We’ve seen it happen,” Tuttle said. “It’s happened about 15 times in 24 years … out of about 3.5 million field uses” of the device, known as a conducted electrical weapon, or CEW.
“It’s a known situation. Thankfully, it’s been a very rare event,” Tuttle said.
Investigators say the Oklahoma man who caught fire was armed with a gun and was also carrying a lighter. An officer stunned him with a Taser, but the man managed to fight his way back into his van, where he burst into flames. Authorities say they’re still trying to determine whether the man used his lighter to start the fire or whether the Taser was the cause.
Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Axon Enterprise Inc. notes on its website that a Taser can cause flammable materials to catch fire.
The names of the man and the officers involved have not been released. The dead man’s body was sent to the state medical examiner’s office to try to determine the cause of the blaze.
McClain County Sheriff’s Det. David Tompkins said it appears the officer was probably justified in using the Taser.