A 44-year-old man was set on fire Christmas night at a gas station in central Miami-Dade County. He was burned over 75 percent of his body but remained alive Wednesday as his family pleaded for help in finding his attackers.
It was a mystery why Darrell Brackett was set ablaze at the U-Gas station at 4700 NW 27th Ave. Miami-Dade police said they were treating the investigation as possible attempted murder.
“This is a human being,” his mother, Bridgett Brackett, told reporters as she stood outside Jackson Memorial Hospital, where her son was being treated. “This is not an animal.”
Was it a random attack? A robbery gone wrong? Police said only that they were still investigating.
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It happened Tuesday night, about a half hour before midnight, police said. Earlier in the evening, Darrell Brackett and his girlfriend had a cookout at their home, his mother said.
Afterward, they took their guests home. After dropping them off, Brackett and his girlfriend were heading home when their van ran out of gas near Northwest 49th Street and 23rd Avenue.
Stay in the van, Brackett told his girlfriend, according to his mother. He would walk to a gas station.
He made to the U-Gas, police said, where he paid for some gas and walked over to a pump. What happened next remained unclear to authorities Wednesday.
What police do know is that they got calls saying a man on fire was running in the middle of the street.
Bridgett Brackett said a woman who saw her son in flames rushed over to help him. She got him to the ground and rolled him in the dirt of the median, which put out the flames.
Brackett’s mother said he told her that he had only asked some men at the gas station a question, and that he told the woman who rescued him, over and over, “They didn’t have to do this to me.”
The woman kept talking to him, trying to keep to him alert, asking him questions until help arrived and got him to Jackson, his mother said
Back at the van, Brackett’s girlfriend became worried when he didn’t return. At first, she figured he got caught up talking to some people, Brackett’s mother said. After awhile, she left the van and walked to a corner store to borrow a phone so she could call Brackett’s cellphone.
It went to voicemail.
She was leaving when the store clerk told her to come back. It was the police, calling back after the number appeared on Brackett’s phone.
They told her what happened.
Wednesday night, Bridgett Brackett said doctors told her they had placed her son in a medically induced coma to help him recover. He was burned over about 75 percent of his body, she said, including his waist, parts of his legs and his head.
The only parts that weren’t burned were his thighs, his mother said, because his thick jeans protected them.
Bridgett Brackett spent Wednesday at the hospital, constantly answering her cellphone. It seemed to ring every five minutes with another person who had heard the news and couldn’t believe what had happened to Darrell, a man who worked at a landscaping company and enjoyed coming home and hanging out with his girlfriend.
She said she knew her son wasn’t perfect, and that he had his ups and downs.
Records show Brackett had been arrested several times, mostly for drug possession and petty crimes, but he never spent time in prison.
He wasn’t one to argue, his mother said. “He would avoid trouble by walking away.”
The Brackett family also hopes to find the woman who helped put out the flames. They want to thank her.
“We’re just praying,” Bridgett Brackett said, “and taking it day by day.”
Detectives asked anyone with information to call Miami-Dade County Crime Stoppers, anonymously, at 305-471-8477.
Information from Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 is included to this report.