The city Fire Marshal's Office is investigating a car fire early Friday in the Lovejoy neighborhood as an arson that might be a hate crime.
A white Buffalo man who brought two African-American friends to an East Lovejoy Street bar early Friday came out 10 or 15 minutes later to find his car engulfed in flames, according to fire investigators and the owner of the car.
"I was mad. I was very, very mad. I know exactly why it was on fire. Because I brought two black guys in the neighborhood," said the man, a 25-year-old Lovejoy resident, who spoke on condition he not be named because he feared retaliation.
The man, who works at a downtown restaurant, said the incident began at about 1 a.m. Friday, when he brought two co-workers to visit his girlfriend, who tends bar at Bottoms Up on Lovejoy Street.
The three men went into the bar and didn't have any problems with the handful of other patrons, according to the man and his girlfriend, who also asked not to be named.
The trio was in Bottoms Up no more than 10 or 15 minutes when the bar's manager said a car was on fire, the man and his girlfriend said.
They say they rushed outside to find his 1997 Buick Skylark in flames and quickly called 911.
The interior, including a car seat for the couple's 2-year-old daughter, is charred and the car is a total loss, the man said.
Though the man said he has had African-American friends over to his Lovejoy home before, without incident, this is the first time he has brought them to Bottoms Up. His girlfriend said it is rare for African-Americans to patronize the bar.
"To say it was a random thing is to ignore the fact that there's a lot of racially motivated crimes going on," said the bartender, who is 22 and has lived with her boyfriend and their daughter in the neighborhood for 2 1/2 years.
She was referring to several incidents reported this summer in Lovejoy and Seneca-Babcock involving attacks by whites on African-Americans and African-Americans on whites.
Fire investigators are treating the arson as a possible hate crime, said Fire Marshal Jim O'Neill.
Investigators found a T-shirt in the burnt car that had a gasoline-like odor on it, said Lt. Garnell Smith, supervisor in the Fire Marshal's Office. The T-shirt is being analyzed.
Anyone with information is asked to call the office at 851-4515.