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Shoplifter sets East Bay store clerk on fire during confrontation

El Sobrante store clerk set on fire during confrontation with shoplifter
El Sobrante store clerk set on fire during confrontation with shoplifter 02:30

EL SOBRANTE — A store clerk who tried to stop a man from stealing a third time in one day was set on fire during the confrontation. 

Surveillance video captured the moment a man poured lighter fluid on the worker and set him on fire.

The attack left Suraj, who declined to share his last name for safety reasons, with second and third-degree burns on his face, neck, chest and shoulder. 

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

He has been hospitalized since Sept. 22. 

"It's terrible. You know, I'm still in a trauma right now, me, my family," he said from his hospital bed. 

"And when we clean the wound, it's like over 10," he said of the pain he's experiencing.

Suraj said he's worked as a clerk at Appian Food and Liquor in El Sobrante for about five years. He said workers deal with shoplifters often, but nothing like this has ever happened.

On this day, he said his coworker alerted him to the repeat shoplifter who stole lighter fluid each time. Suraj tried to stop him, while his co-worker grabbed a bat. 

"He just splashed lighter fluid on my face, and I was so scared that moment," said Suraj. "I tried to cover his hand, but I don't know. I don't remember. He just lit the fire on me you know. I just rushed to the restroom, and I just splashed water on my face." 

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The Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office said deputies arrested the suspect, 38-year-old Kendall Burton, a homeless person in El Sobrante. He's facing charges including assault with a deadly weapon, battery, arson and robbery. He's being held without bail. 

"First of all, I would like to say nobody has to go through this kind of situation, and the small stores should have more security or something like that. The workplace should be safer," he said. 

Suraj said he needs several surgeries and faces a long road to recovery. 

His wife, Sabeena Parajuli, started an online fundraiser to help with medical bills.

"They cry all the time when they come here," he said of his family. 

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