FRESNO, Calif. -- A pair of Fresno drag queens says they stopped arson in progress, and investigators are looking at it as a possible hate crime.
A truck was the target of the fire, but the couple who owned it says they were the real targets -- because they're gay.
The arson alone would be a serious crime -- it burned a truck and a few thousand dollars' worth of costumes and wigs for drag shows. But the hate speech in text messages -- allegedly from a suspect Fresno County sheriff's deputies are now looking for -- could make this much worse.
The fire that torched the inside of the SUV burned so hot, it popped a back window from the inside out.
"This actually blew," said Brandon Jackson, referring to the window a right behind where he stood. "I was right here when this pshhh, it just literally. If I would've been right here I would've had a face full of glass."
Jackson says he was trying to put out the fire every way possible. Handprints on the hood are his from an attempt to pound out the flames. Jackson's partner, Chris Ruiz, had just confronted a familiar face outside their Fresno County home.
"When Chris came out and said 'What are you doing?', he said 'I'm lighting your ****ing car on fire f****t.'"
A gay slur put an exclamation point at the end of the suspect's comment, but it wasn't the only one he made, which is why sheriff's deputies are investigating all angles, including the possibility this was hate crime.
Jackson and Ruiz are well-known drag queens in Fresno, and the man deputies are seeking -- Chuck Bullock, Jr, knows that well. He was once romantically involved with Jackson's mother.
Text messages from Bullock's phone to his ex-girlfriend after the showdown used more slurs and talked about playing with fire, even saying quote "I'm going to burn you down" in one profanity-laced message. Jackson eventually doused the flames with a garden hose, but when he opened the door, he found the mess left behind.
"The smell was god-awful and then it just looked as if it was melting - waxworks -- it just looked like it was melting," he said. "And this was because, simply because of my sexuality."
Jackson and Ruiz say Bullock also spewed Bible verses at them as he called them names. Bullock's father was a local pastor and deputies actually went to his home Tuesday, looking for his son. So far, though, they haven't tracked him down. There's a warrant out for his arrest on a previous criminal charge as well.
Fresno drag queens victims of possible hate crime