PORTLAND, Ore. -- Nearly four months after he was doused with gasoline and lit on fire at a Happy Valley Denny’s, walking remains a goal for Scott Ranstrom.
“I’m trying to take steps,” he said.
The 69-year-old Vietnam veteran didn’t know his attacker.
He doesn’t like to think about him.
“Every morning I get up with expectations of tomorrow, not what happened,” said Ranstrom, his hands covered by protective gloves.
Still he admits, “it’s hard.”
Sitting in a private room in Vibra Specialty Hospital, a recovery center for those who need long-term, in-patient care, Ranstrom is unwavering.
He remembers everything.
“There was nobody in the room,” he said. “I didn’t see this guy come in and be seated.”
Ranstrom, who frequented that Denny’s for its hot coffee and strong wifi, believes he had his back to his attacker.
“All of a sudden, I feel something cold on me. I realize it's gasoline and I think, 'What the heck?' All of a sudden, poof. I'm up in flames,” he said. “If I'd have taken one breath when the flames were up, I'd have been dead.”
Ranstrom fell to the floor and landed so hard he damaged a kidney, an injury that requires he be on dialysis moving forward.
He covered his mouth with his hands and rolled.
“I'm squirming and rolling all over the floor. I can't put the flames out,” he said. “It's the most horrifying thing in the world to smell your own skin burning off your body and your hair going away.”
Ranstrom opened his eyes long enough to see another customer come running.
His name was Jason Pappas. He told KGW he threw his coat on Ranstrom.
“I felt this guy put a coat over me or something,” said Ranstrom. “Next thing I know, I woke up to the medics there two minutes later.”
From there, the memory goes black for two months. Doctors put Ranstrom in a medically induced coma.
The worst of the burns had ravaged his hands and face.
Several skin graft surgeries later, he’s still six months from regaining full control of his hands.
“It's quite a recovery process,” he said.
As for his alleged attacker, Deshaun Swanger sits in Oregon State Hospital under observation.
Doctors said the ex-convict, who was living in transitional housing at the time of the attack, suffers from psychosis.
He’s scheduled to be re-evaluated in October on whether he's fit to stand trial for aggravated attempted murder.
“I'm not mad at the guy. I feel sorry for him,” said Ranstrom. “I don't want to see him die, necessarily. But I'll say, he should never be out in public. Now, obviously he's sick, but I don't think he's mentally sick enough to where he should spend his life in a nice, cushy psycho ward.”
For now, the former landscape photographer and U.S. Army veteran, who served two tours in Vietnam, is determined to focus on rebuilding his life, not on the chance encounter that changed it.
“It's like when I was overseas and I had something happen. You open your eyes and you go, ‘Well, I'm alive,’” he said. “That's the most important thing. I'm alive.”
In the days following the attack, Scott Ranstrom's family set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for his medical bills.
Their goal was 100,000 dollars. As of Saturday, it's raised $40,400.
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