LOS ANGELES — For more than 10 years, the homeless woman slept on the same plastic bus stop bench at a busy intersection in the San Fernando Valley, no matter how cold or rainy it was.
The 67-year-old woman, described by one church volunteer who saw her regularly as the “sweetest lady on the street,’’ was nestled in her regular spot early Thursday when a man came out of a nearby drug store, doused her with a flammable liquid, and set her ablaze.
She was taken to a nearby hospital, where she was listed in critical condition.
A witness called 911, and police arrested Dennis Petillo, 24, a short time later. He was booked for investigation of attempted murder and was held on $500,000 bail.
Police provided no possible motive and released no details on Petillo. The victim’s name was also withheld.
The attack shocked residents, and later Thursday about a dozen people held vigil around the charred bench, urging motorists to honk their horns in support of homeless rights. One sign placed on the bench read, ‘‘Our Prayers to Violet,’’ believed to be the victim’s first name.
Tej Deol, 31, who resides at a nearby sober living house, said the woman made the bench her home. He said he saw her Christmas Eve.
‘‘I told her, ‘Merry Christmas and happy New Year,’ and she said she was doing good,’’ Deol said. ‘‘She was so kind.’’
Thursday’s incident was at least the third in Los Angeles County since October in which people were set on fire.
Los Angeles police are investigating whether Petillo might be tied to any other similar crimes, but at this point detectives don’t believe he is, Commander Andrew Smith said.
As the number of flowers and candles around the bench grew Thursday, people who knew the victim tried to comprehend why a woman who seemed so benign could be so viciously attacked.
Robert Wyneken, 75, who volunteers at a nearby church that serves meals for the needy called Violet the ‘‘sweetest lady on the street.’’ He said she was quiet and resourceful.
‘‘I just think she had something in her life where she wanted to be alone,’’ he said. ‘‘She didn’t want to be a burden to anybody.’’