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Disabled man set ablaze in robbery

From the Lovely County Citizen

By Bill King

Sara Russell smelled smoke when she left her house Friday at 3:45 p.m. but didn’t think much of it. About a half mile down her road she saw something in the ditch on the side of the dirt road flailing wildly. At first she thought a deer had been hit, but as got closer it looked like a man with no clothes.

He was wearing cut-off shorts it turned out, and acting “wild,” she said. “I realized it was more than his arms waving. It was skin dripping off him, he looked like a monster. He was flagging me down and I was scared to death.

Russell used her cell phone to call her husband who was still at home. She told him to call 911 and come to the scene. Terry Russell arrived a minute later, as did another neighbor.

“He was in shock, but talking,” Terry said. “The skin was falling off his fingers. It was terrible. We gave him water and talked with him until the ambulance arrived. He said someone beat him up, poured gasoline on him, set him on fire and took his paycheck, about $500. He said it was one person. He wasn’t making a whole lot of sense, but I was so surprised he was even talking. He didn’t seem to be in a lot of pain. I guess the body turns off pain when it’s in shock.”

Carroll County Sheriff Chuck Medford identified the victim as Darrell Michael Heaster, 50, of Charles St. in Berryville. Heaster was airlifted to Springdale, then transferred to a burn unit in Tulsa, Okla. According to Medford, a deputy was told by the hospital Heaster is on a respirator and his prognosis is poor.

Heaster, who does not have a driver’s license and walks with a hobble, has for several years been frequently seen hitchhiking between Berryville and Eureka Springs. Medford said Heaster told his deputy he was picked up hitchhiking in Berryville around noon Friday and wound up drinking beer and smoking pot while riding through the back roads with the driver.
At some point, the assailant drove Heaster about a half mile off CR 305 on an old logging road and told him he wanted the rest of his disability check. According to Medford, the man apparently cut Heaster’s long hair, doused him with gasoline, set him on fire and tried to run him over with his car. “Heaster was able to get behind a tree and the guy took off,” the sheriff said.

According to Terry Russell, Heaster, burned and wearing only shorts, crawled about 75 yards to the county road where Sara found him.

Russell told pretty much the same story as Medford, though he said Heaster said they had been drinking beer but never mentioned smoking pot. He said he wasn’t sure if his hair had been cut or singed. Medford said he had no information on the assailant or vehicle that he could release, but Russell said Heaster told him the car was a blue Chevrolet. He also believes the first deputy on the scene got at least a partial tag number from Heaster.
After help arrived, Russell and his neighbor went up the logging road and began to extinguish the fire in the woods. He said they saw what appeared to be the charred remains of Heaster’s backpack. Firefighters arrived to put out the fire.

“I just hope they find the guy who did it,” Russell said. “He needs to be put away. I can’t believe anyone could do that to another human being.”

Medford agrees. “No one deserves that,” he said. The sheriff requests that anyone who might have seen Heaster being picked up near the Berryville McDonald’s around noon Friday contact the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office.

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