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Long road to recovery for East Bay store clerk who was set on fire

El Sobrante man set on fire during shoplifting confrontation on road to recovery
El Sobrante man set on fire during shoplifting confrontation on road to recovery 04:52

EL SOBRANTE – An East Bay clerk who was set on fire by an alleged repeat shoplifter last month faces a long road to mental and physical recovery.

Suraj, a store clerk in El Sobrante, said he's undergone two surgeries since the September 22 attack. The 31-year-old told KPIX that doctors transferred skin from his thigh to his neck, shoulder, chest and ear.

At first, they also feared he would lose his eyesight. Thankfully, after the swelling went down, he still has it. 

"I think it's a little bit good but it's still long way to go," he said when asked how he was feeling on Tuesday.

Since reporter Betty Yu first shared his story, Suraj has received online donations and uplifting messages of support from strangers.

"I was happy for their concern about me, I appreciate them. I would like to thank all of the people," he said.

Suraj also wants to thank a Good Samaritan customer who stepped in and held down the suspect until authorities arrived. His coworker also tried to help by grabbing a bat.

Kendall Burton, a 38-year-old who is homeless, is facing felony charges including assault, battery, arson, robbery, and mayhem.

The Contra Costa County Sheriff's office said he had outstanding arrest warrants and is being held without bail.

According to the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office, Burton has six prior felony convictions dating back to 2004. All offenses were either burglary or robbery in Contra Costa, Alameda and Sacramento counties.

"He should get punished, that's all I want to say, so after that nobody has to go through this kind of situation," he said.

Suraj, who came to this country about five years ago when he was 26 years old, said he misses being able to do basic tasks.

"Like go grocery shopping, go work," he said.

He said the store owner is helping him navigate the court process.

"He feel bad about it... he was so worried, he pretty concerned, he supporting me," he said. "Right now, I just want to come out of this pain, walk on my own, you know?"

The preliminary hearing for Burton is scheduled for October 9th in Martinez. If convicted of the charges, Burton is looking at a sentence of 14 years to life in prison.

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