NY Guyanese torches self as kids watch
Stabroek News
July 27, 2004

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(Daily News) A Queens cab driver died yesterday after turning himself into a human torch in front of his horrified children, minutes after cops told him to stop abusing his wife, police said.

Rishi Ram Sawak, 48, was dead on arrival at Jamaica Hospital after the 3 p.m. incident, in which he poured gasoline over his head and lit himself on fire on the pavement outside his Ozone Park home.

His children saw the fire from a window in the living room of their 103-19 126th St. home, at first not knowing the blaze was consuming their father.

Sawak's wife, Sharion, said yesterday that his abuse had driven her to file a complaint at the 102nd Precinct house on Saturday. She said the part-time cab driver often had threatened to inflict violence on his family.

"He always threatened, 'I'm going to burn the house down with everything inside,'" Sharion told the Daily News yesterday. "Instead, he burned himself."

Sawak's anger had been building since lunchtime Saturday, when he yelled at his wife for not making him lunch, she said. "Where's my food? I want my food," Sharion Sawak quoted her husband as saying.

The couple fought until late at night, and the anger resumed yesterday morning when they woke up, she said. Sawak knocked a box of cereal from his wife's hands on the breakfast table, then threw a VCR and cable box across the room, she said.

Sawak fuelled his rage by downing beer and rum through the morning, taunting his wife until she went to police, she said. Her drunken husband followed her to the stationhouse, where cops threatened to lock him up if he went back to the house, Sharion Sawak said.

Sharion went back home with her kids - Salima, 2, and Ray, 5 - and locked Rishi Sawak outside. "He's outside cursing, yelling, walking around," Sharion Sawak said.

The next thing she knew, the children were screaming by the living room window as her husband lay on the edge of their driveway, his body in flames.

"He didn't understand," the mother said of her son, Ray. "He didn't know it was his father."

As flames engulfed his body, a man who had been working nearby raced over with a wet rug, draping it over Sawak's body.

"I threw the rug over him and tried to put the fire out," said Mike Mohamed, 44, who had been replacing the tiles at a relative's home across the street when he saw the flames. "The guy was still breathing."

Meantime, a boy playing soccer on the street summoned fire fighters by ringing a nearby fire box. "I didn't panic. I just pressed the button to the Fire Department," Isaiah Rentas, 9, told The News. "I was kind of nervous, but I just knew what to do."

Rishi and Sharion Sawak, who are both from Guyana, met while working in a sewing factory in New York. The relationship had always been rocky and he many times threatened to "leave me alone to suffer," she said.