Child burned in bizarre 'redneck flamethrower' incident

James Halpin

Two Anchorage men who told investigators they were horsing around with a "redneck flamethrower" set a 5-year-old boy's head on fire and have been charged with felony assault and reckless endangerment, according to police and court records.

Jonathon Michael Miller, 29, and Stephen Ray Dilley II, 32, were jailed Tuesday after inflicting second-degree burns to the boy's head and singeing his hair with an aerosol sprayer and lighter, according to Alaska State Troopers. The child, who was injured Friday, did not receive medical treatment until arriving at school near his home in Anchor Point on Monday.

"It was described to the troopers as an accident," troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said. "I mean a child, two guys, can of Quick Start, Bic lighter: How could this not go wrong?"

According to a troopers' affidavit filed in court, Miller told investigators he's been trying to toughen the boy up and the best way to do it is to "scare the s--t out of them when they don't see it coming."

Asked why the child had not gotten treatment, Miller told investigators, "Why go make bills for yourself over little things," according to the affidavit.

The child, identified only by his initials in court documents, suffered burns to the left side of his face, nose, eyelid and ear, according to troopers. Most of the hair on the left side of the boy's head was singed, along with some on the right side.

The boy told troopers he had not been in trouble and described the incident as a "practical joke gone wrong," Trooper Ryan Browning wrote in the affidavit. The child said he was playing in his room over the weekend when the incident occurred.

The boy's mother was away for the weekend and had left the boy with her current boyfriend, Miller, and Dilley, with whom the mother has a child, according to troopers. Although she has a restraining order against Dilley, he has been living in a motor home on the property where she lives, at Mile 162 of the Sterling Highway, and helping her take care of her five children, according to troopers.

The men told troopers they were out on the porch smoking when they went inside and Dilley grabbed a can of compressed starter fluid and a lighter, troopers said.

"You know what would be funny?," Dilley said, according to the affidavit.

"Do you know how much trouble I could get in for this?" Miller replied.

Miller then called for the boy, who opened the door as Miller unleashed a ball of flames, according to troopers.

"Dilley stated it only lasted for about a half second and then they saw (the boy's) head was on fire," Browning wrote. "They ran to (the boy) and doused the flames with their hands, then tended to his burns. Dilley stated he didn't think the spray would go that far."

The men denied drinking, saying it was a very "sober day," according to the affidavit.

When the boy's mother came home late Sunday night, she learned of the boy's injuries, troopers said. She ended up hospitalized because of an overdose of bipolar medications the same night, Browning wrote.

The Office of Children's Services called troopers Monday after the burned boy showed up to Chapman Elementary School. The boy did not want to disclose what had happened, according to troopers.

He was treated at an emergency room and released to a family member, Peters said.

Court records indicate the Miller and Dilley have been appointed public defenders, though a woman who answered the phone at that office said that agency had not yet received the paperwork in the cases and no attorney had been assigned.

They are each charged with two counts of third-degree assault and a count of reckless endangerment. They remain jailed at the Wildwood Pretrial facility, according to the Department of Corrections.

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