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Man set on fire in Ore. is determined to get his life back

Scott Ranstrom

PORTLAND, Ore. — For weeks, Scott Ranstrom was in critical condition after someone set him on fire at a Happy Valley Denny’s restaurant back in April. He spent two months in a coma. Now, Ranstrom is recovering and determined to get his life back.

The 69-year-old Vietnam veteran considers himself a jack-of-all trades, someone who can learn a new skill just by watching. He spent years as a commercial roofer. He doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, and doesn’t do drugs. “My biggest crime in life is playing poker, and I love doing that,” he said.

On the night of April 19, Ranstrom was sitting in the Denny’s near Clackamas Town Center, working on a to-do list and playing online poker. Meanwhile, surveillance video shows a man, later identified as DeShaun Swanger, walk inside and sit down nearby.

“I thought I felt the cushion move behind me, then all of the sudden I'm all wet. I said ‘What the hell!’ Then I smell gas. [Expletive]. I couldn't have said that any faster and all of the sudden, Whoom! I'm up in flames,” said Ranstrom. “Then it was panic because it wasn't just on my back or on my hand, it was all over me, I was on fire.”

Ranstrom says he dropped to the ground and began squirming, which caused some internal injuries. He covered his face with this hands. Ranstrom says his hands were the most severely burned.

“It was beyond terror. You're watching yourself burn up. I don't know how to describe that. My hair burned off, what little I had, my hands are burning, you smell your skin, you smell your hair. It got to the point if I had taken one more breath, I wouldn't have been here because the flames were that severe, I would have sucked it in and I would have been dead,” said Ranstrom.

Ranstrom says someone came to put out the fire on his body, and he remembers medics cutting off his clothes to treat him. He spent the next two months in a coma.

“After I opened my eyes, I realized I was [in the hospital]. From then I on was like, ‘I'm alive, what do I do, how do I get better?’” said Ranstrom.

Since the incident, Ranstrom has received enormous support from his family and the community.

“Help from my family, nurses and all, letters coming in, I couldn't have made it without that, the recovery part,” he said.

His sisters in Portland and Astoria come to visit often. A poker-playing friend checks in every other day. Another family member from Oklahoma made the two-thousand-mile drive to see Ranstrom. He says he received letters from as far away as New York.

His advice to anyone else going through a hard time: Don’t give up, have a positive attitude.

“Once you think of how bad it could be, it inspires you to go further. Even if I had missed one of my hands, the fact that I have the other one gives me the courage to go on,” he said. “You got to be positive, you got to look at tomorrow. What do you want to do? Do you want to be in a bed or wheelchair the rest of your life? Or do you want to get better?”

Clackamas County Deputies arrested Swanger several days after the attack and charged him with attempted murder. Swanger was transferred to the Oregon State Hospital for treatment, a judge ordered him unfit to stand trial on charges of attempted murder.

“No I don't hate him and I don't want to see him die, but I don't want him in the public again, I don't want him out there where he can hurt somebody else,” said Ranstrom about his accused attacker.

Right now, Ranstrom cannot walk or stand on his own, he does not have full use of his hands yet either. He still needs another surgery to fix an internal injury. However, he is determined to recover, determined to walk again, determined to get his life back.

As soon as he gets out of the hospital, Ranstrom said he’s going to do the same thing he was doing just before his attack. His one vice. He is going to play poker. He wouldn’t tell KATU how good he was, but he gave us this hint, “I'm ahead more than I'm down.”

You can donate to Ranstrom online through his GoFundMe account.

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