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Store Worker Set On Fire In Reading; Suspect Sought

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By Oren Liebermann

READING, Pa. (CBS/AP) — Police are searching for a suspect after a worker at a corner store was doused with gasoline and set on fire in Reading.

Investigators say 32-year-old Joel Fontanez was behind the counter at the Citi Sub & Grocery Store when he was attacked around 8 p.m. Tuesday. Firefighters were dispatched for a report of a fire and found the victim in a gutter across the street.

Deputy Fire Chief Tom Kemery says firefighters put out the blaze and an ambulance took Fontanez to the hospital. Wednesday officials said he was in critical condition.

“I was paying my bill at the counter and someone came in the door, tossed that on to Joel and they were gone,” says a witness, who did not want to be identified, that spoke to Eyewitness News.

“I said ‘Oh, my God!’ I shook my head, I could not believe it happened,” says Allison Ortlip, a customer.

Fontanez struggled, setting fire to papers near him before he ran out to the street.

The eyewitness says gasoline was lit when the suspect threw it.

“He was rolling across 10th street trying to get the flames out. His arms, his shirt, everything was flames,” says the witness.

Investigators don’t know what provoked the attack. They’re looking at surveillance video to identify the suspect.

The store’s owner says he’s never had any trouble and didn’t know of any threats against the store or its employees.

“It is a shame that somebody came in the store and threw gasoline,” says the owner, Balbir Chandhok.

Customers say Fontanez was helpful and friendly and they don’t know of anyone who had a problem with him.

“He’s a nice guy; he meant no trouble with anybody. He came from his home to work, from work back to his house,” says Victor Peres, a neighbor of Fontanez.

“He never had a problem with nobody. He was a good kid,” says another neighbor.

Fontanez’s brother says family members are coming in from all over to be by his bedside and pray for his recovery.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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