On The Mend: Ocean City Woman Burned In Fatal Church Fire Still Recovering

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OCEAN CITY, Md. (WJZ) — The lone survivor of a massive fire at an Ocean City church opens up about the terrifying ordeal. She talks to WJZ about the moment a man engulfed in flames came running into the church — with an intent to kill.

Christie Ileto has the shocking account.

Dana Truitt says when John Sterner — the man police say lit himself on fire — ran into the church where she was, she had to fight her way past him. She says she was determined to live.

Church volunteer Dana Truitt was setting up for a Thanksgiving food bank when Ocean City Police say John Sterner, a man St. Paul’s By-The-Sea once helped, drenched himself with fuel, set himself on fire and ran inside, killing Pastor David Dingwall.

“[Sterner] would come in all the time. And sometimes he would be nice and friendly, and sometimes he would come in there drunk as anything,” Truitt said.

Truitt, the only survivor, relives the moments leading up to the blaze.

“I was looking out the front door, that’s where he set himself on fire. And that’s when he come in, he held onto my right arm and he said, ‘You’re not going nowhere.’ And I said, ‘Watch me’ and I knocked him down and got outside,” recalled Truitt.

Determined to live, she rolled on the ground to extinguish the flames incinerating her flesh. Police say Sterner’s motive remains unclear. Surveillance video shows him purchasing a gas can and gasoline blocks from the church, minutes before the fire.

“We’re fairly certain he intended to take his own life,” said Captain Mike Colbert.

Since the devastating fire, Truitt has been recovering at Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital from severe burns on her arm, shoulder and part of her face. She’s hoping that, following rehabilitation, she’ll be able to go home to her family.

“My face is doing so good. They say you can’t even tell it now hardly,” Truitt said.

And with a long road to recovery, Truitt says she’s fortunate to be alive.

Truitt says she’s hopeful she’ll be discharged from the hospital sometime in the next two weeks.

To cover medical expenses, a fund has been set up. To help, click here.

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