Burn victim still in poor condition

Monday, August 25, 2003

The Berryville man who was seriously beaten and set afire earlier this month is still in critical condition at a Tulsa Hospital burn unit, on a respirator and ventilator but hanging on as of Thursday, according to the sheriff's office.

Investigator Ralph Gordon was in Eureka Springs Thursday, still investigating the crime that has many people upset in Carroll County over the vicious nature of the attack.

Phones have been ringing constantly at the sheriff's office and the newspaper with offers of help and aid for Darrell Michael Heaster, 50, who has undergone several surgeries for his injuries and burns over 40 percent of his body.

Accounts have been established at Community First Bank in Eureka Springs and Berryville, and the Berryville Free Store at 120 East Church Ave. is accepting get-well cards "as a token of our concern and love from our community," said store manager Linda Holm.

Gordon said, "I talked to his friends and family, and they said he was about the same, not getting any better but not getting worse. We are absolutely interested in any more information the public can provide about the incident, and the investigation is continuing."

Heaster was discovered by a passing motorist in the area of County Road 302 off of Highway 23 South of Eureka Springs at about 3:45 p.m. on Aug. 4.

The woman summoned her husband and police for help, and medical personnel and a sheriff's deputy arrived at approximately 4 p.m.

Gordon said the department would appreciate any information from the public who may have seen Heaster in the area of the Bank of Eureka Springs or any liquor stores in Eureka Springs or Berryville.

Heaster is a well-recognized man with long hair and a beard, who walked with an unsteady gait and a cain from a previous disability. He was often seen walking from his home in a small apartment complex on Highway 62 Spur, across from the cement plant.

He was also seen hitchhiking back and forth between Eureka Springs, Berryville and Green Forest, quite often.

Gordon said the investigators would appreciate anyone who saw Heaster on Monday getting into a car with someone else, after he cashed a check at about 3:30 p.m., at Bank of Eureka Springs. He may have been seen at Booze Brothers Liquor store on Van Buren Street shortly after he left the bank. Anyone who saw him Monday is asked to call the sheriff's office at (479) 253-5000, or (870) 423-2901.

Gordon said doctors have said they will call him when Heaster can recognize and react to a possible photo lineup, but the investigation is still in the early stages.

Heaster was beaten up, doused with gasoline and set on fire and may also have been robbed of his money before being dumped in the Greenwood Hollow area outside Eureka Springs by an unknown person or persons.

Heaster was treated by Eureka Springs paramedics at the scene, taken to Eureka Springs Hospital, then airlifted to Washington Regional Hospital in Fayetteville. He was later transferred to the burn unit at a Tulsa hospital.

Part of the investigation hinged on review of video surveillance cameras along Van Buren Street. Heaster was seen in the bank video, but he was alone. He often carried a backpack. He may have been in a blue, "rough looking" vehicle, perhaps a Chevrolet sedan.

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