HORRIFIC: Homeless serial shoplifter with a violent record sets California store clerk on fire
A surveillance camera at Appian Food and Liquor store in El Sobrante has captured a homeless serial shoplifter setting a store clerk’s hair on fire, leaving him with severe burns.
The victim, identified as Suraj, has been confined at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco since the attack. Suraj is seen in the video struggling with the assailant, who was later identified as 38-year-old Kendall Burton, moments before the perpetrator doused him with lighter fluid and ignited the fire.
In the footage obtained by CBS News Bay Area, another store employee can be seen rushing to defend Suraj with a baseball bat. Several other clerks quickly arrived at the scene, helping to subdue Burton. However, the attack left Suraj with serious second and third-degree burns on his face, neck, shoulders and chest.
“I’m still in trauma right now. The pain is like a seven or eight out of ten. When we clean the wound, it is a full ten,” Suraj told CBS News.
Suraj, who has been working at the El Sobrante store for five years, revealed that they frequently dealt with shoplifters. However, this incident was by far the most severe and terrifying. Suraj recounted that a fellow co-worker had alerted him to a repeat shoplifter who had been stealing lighter fluid repeatedly. After the thief attempted to steal for the third time, Suraj confronted him, leading to the violent attack.
“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 splashed water on my face,” Suraj recounted. “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.”
San Francisco businesses are closing due to retail theft
In 2023 alone, two businesses in San Francisco have closed due to the surge in unchecked retail theft. Whole Foods Market (WFM) decided to close its flagship Trinity Place location in April due to safety concerns. (Related: BAD APPLE: NYC shoplifting reports hit record levels for second straight year.)
“To ensure the safety of our team members, we have made the difficult decision to close the Trinity store for the time being. All team members will be transferred to one of our nearby locations,” a spokesperson from WFM stated.
However, an unnamed source told the San Francisco Standard that WFM managers had privately cited the high level of crime and open drug use in the vicinity of Trinity Place as a significant factor behind the branch’s closure.
An anonymous store manager corroborated the tipster’s statements, revealing that the Trinity WFM location had already reduced its operating hours in October 2022 due to rising retail theft and frequent disturbances. The situation further deteriorated when staff members discovered syringes and drug paraphernalia left behind by users, prompting the implementation of stricter restroom access rules.
In another blow to San Francisco’s retail landscape, Nordstrom, a prominent department store chain, announced the permanent closure of its Westfield Mall location. Having been a fixture in downtown San Francisco for 35 years, Nordstrom’s exit will result in the liberation of over 300,000 square feet of retail space.
In a letter dated May 2, Nordstrom’s Chief Stores Officer Jamie Nordstrom explained the rationale behind the decision. “The dynamics of the downtown San Francisco market have changed dramatically over the past several years,” he stated. “This is impacting customer foot traffic to our stores and our ability to operate successfully.”
The closure of these major retailers underscores the urgency of addressing the issue of unchecked retail theft in San Francisco. Local authorities, business leaders and community stakeholders are now faced with the challenge of finding effective solutions to restore safety, revitalize the retail sector and ensure the city remains an attractive place for businesses and shoppers alike.
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