‘So scared’: Suspected shoplifter sets store clerk on fire in California

‘So scared’: Suspected shoplifter sets store clerk on fire in California


Store clerk tells local TV station that he was so scared during the attack and that he faces a long road to recovery

Natalie Neysa Alund
 USA TODAY

A suspected shoplifter set a store clerk on fire during a confrontation in the San Francisco Bay Area, police said Monday.

Deputies responded to the attack on the night of Sept. 22 at a convenience store in El Sobrante, about 20 miles northeast of San Francisco.

Contra Costa sheriff’s spokesman Jimmy Lee told USA TODAY on Monday that the store clerk had confronted the attacker about shoplifting.

Surveillance video taken inside the store shows the clerk struggling with the suspect before flames erupt around the clerk’s head. As they struggle, another clerk behind the counter grabs a baseball bat and dashes toward the suspect as the injured clerk runs out of frame.

The clerk suffered critical injuries and was taken to a local hospital.

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Suspect identified as Kendall Burton

Deputies identified the suspect as 38-year-old Kendall Lavamon Burton, a transient from El Sobrante. 

Burton was arrested and booked into jail, where he remained held without bond on Monday.

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Contra Costa Court records show prosecutors charged him with multiple felonies including assault with a deadly weapon, battery, arson causing bodily injury, robbery, and mayhem.

It’s unclear whether he had obtained an attorney on Monday.

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‘He just lit the fire on me’

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Suraj to recover and get back to normal life., organized by Sabeena Parajuli

The victim’s wife told USA TODAY on Monday her husband was out of danger, recovering slowly and receiving treatment in a San Francisco hospital.

Speaking from his hospital bed, Suraj − who asked that his last name not be used for safety reasons − told KPIX-TV that the day of the attack, his coworker alerted him to a repeat shoplifter who would steal lighter fluid.

When Suraj tried to stop him, “he just splashed lighter fluid on my face,” he said

“I was so scared that moment,” he told the station. “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.” 

He said he’s in agony every time his wounds are cleaned, needs several surgeries and faces a long road to recovery.

An online fundraiser created by his wife last week to help pay for medical bills had raised more than $28,000 by midday Monday.

“We are overwhelmed by the mental trauma and the pressure of medical procedures,” his wife wrote. “Your support would be invaluable and greatly appreciated.”

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Natalie Neysa Alund is a senior reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at [email protected] and follow her on X @nataliealund.

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