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Witnesses rescue man set on fire during argument

SAN DIEGO -- A transient was in custody Wednesday on suspicion of trying to kill a fellow homeless man during a Fourth of July dispute that left the victim gravely injured in his burning tent at a makeshift camp in the Grantville neighborhood.

Witnesses reported hearing an argument off the 10900 block of San Diego Mission Road shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday, according to San Diego police. When the sounds of something burning began issuing from the same general area about five minutes later, they went to investigate.

"They ... found the victim's tent on fire, partially (covering) the victim, with a pallet on top of him," Officer John Buttle said.

The good Samaritans pulled the victim from underneath the burning materials and called 911, then noticed another transient loitering in a nearby patch of shrubbery, watching them.

When police and firefighters arrived, the lurking drifter -- later identified as 25-year-old Sergio Padilla Chavez -- tried to leave, but was detained for questioning.

Medics took the victim to a hospital for treatment of life-threatening injuries, Buttle said.

Chavez was booked into San Diego Central Jail on suspicion of assault, mayhem, attempted murder and arson causing great bodily injury. He was being held without bail pending arraignment, scheduled for Friday afternoon.

It was unclear what prompted the fight between the victim, whose name was withheld, and the suspect.