COVINGTON — Officials said a man set himself on fire at the Kroger at U.S. Highway 278 Tuesday afternoon.
Covington Police Capt. Ken Malcom said a white male went into the store and set himself on fire, burning himself - he has second degree burns and was transported to Newton Medical Center - and causing minor injuries to three other police officers.
The store was not severly damaged, but will be closed at least three hours while the store follows certain required protocols, Kroger Store Manager Horace McCullough said.
“He was obviously disturbed. He was pulling things off the shelves and he was throwing them on the ground. He took rubbing alcohol from the shelves and drenched himself with it. He lunged at an officer,” Malcom said. “Officers were able to tackle him. He had a lighter on him and he set himself on fire.”
Malcom said officers were able to put the fire out fairly quickly. He said the fire burned two of the officers - one with minor burns and the other with only blisters, while a third officer was sprayed in the face with some of the chemicals from the fire extinguisher.
“The investigation is pretty early, but there will be multiple charges on the individual. At this time, he has been taken to Newton Medical Center for his injuries,” Malcom said.
McCullough, the store manager, said the man was walking up and down the paper aisle while pouring liquid, and he said Assistant Store Manager Jeff Corbett was the one who reacted quickly to put out the fire with an extinguisher.
“He probably saved the guy’s life,” McCullough said.
The store was evacuated and is closed to the public for at least three hours. Employees were allowed back in around 5:30 p.m. to begin cleaning up the store.
McCullough said there was no significant damage, but just some cleaning up to be done.
The store won’t be opened until Kroger’s loss prevention officials get on scene and until department of agriculture officials come and let the store know what it can and can’t keep, especially concerning the meat department.
“We’re doing everything for the safety of our customers,” McCullough said.
“I’ve been with Kroger for 30 years and this is the first time I’ve ever seen or heard of something like this. People have set fire to stores before but never themselves. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Charlotte Epps was in the middle of writing a check for her groceries when the store was evacuated. She didn’t get a chance to pay.
“I accidentally stole this greeting card,” Epps said, but she was waiting patiently to talk with a store official.
She had hoped the store would reopen in time to pay for and pick up her groceries, but she understood the store had to follow its protocol.
"If it had happened a few minutes, I would have been walking out with my groceries."
Mark Sanders was also shopping in the store at the time and looked down an aisle where he saw the man, but police on scene motioned for him to go on. He could smell the alcohol and later saw police when they had the man subdued on the ground.
“It’s unbelievable; it’s not what you’d expect at Kroger,” Sanders said. “Honestly, with the police there, I figured they had it under control. I didn’t panic.”