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This time, they were smiling

They met under the worst of circumstances that foggy New Year's morning, two men whose paths were never meant to cross.

On one side of the gate was the visitor from New York, horribly burned, begging for help. On the other was the Southerner who loved the peaceful life outside the city, unsure what to do for someone in so much pain.

"I couldn't imagine anyone doing something like that, not to another human being, anyway," said Omer Surface, the man who opened his gate to help Christopher Wilson that day.

Surface and Wilson met again this month, shortly before the trial of two men charged in the attack was scheduled to begin. The Tampa native who works for a fertilizer company and the Jamaican-born brokerage clerk from Brooklyn spoke for a little while.

"He's a real nice person. He's quiet," said Surface, 40. "He's in a way kind of like me, likes to be left alone. Kind of live-and-let-live is the impression I get from him."

"Kind of a shame a person like that catches something like this, (a person) that has no hard feelings toward anyone, a person that lives his whole life without bothering anybody," said Surface. "It's quite a shame."

The scheduled trial of Lakeland men Mark Kohut and Charles Rourk, charged with kidnapping Wilson, dousing him with gasoline and setting him on fire in a racial attack, didn't go as planned.

After eight difficult days of trying to pick a jury last week, the judge agreed to move the trial out of Tampa. The case is now expected to be tried in West Palm Beach beginning Aug. 23.

While in town awaiting the trial, Wilson went with investigators June 6 to the strip mall where he was kidnapped, and to the remote south Hillsborough field where men taunted him with racial slurs and set him on fire.

On the morning of the attack, Surface told police, he was watching television when he heard someone pleading at the gate of his 5 acre home off S County Road 39 near Fort Lonesome. When he saw Wilson, badly burned over nearly 40 percent of his body, he opened the gate to help him. His wife, Kathy, called 911.

"You would hope any human being would do that to help another human being," Surface said.

He didn't know what to do, so he sprayed Wilson with a garden hose to relieve the pain _ pain so bad Wilson begged the first deputy who arrived to shoot him.

After visiting the crime scenes this month, Wilson went to the Surfaces' to say thank you, prosecutors said.

They didn't talk much about the incident, Surface said.

"If I were him, I would want get it over with, out of my mind and out of my life," Surface said.

And four people whose lives were thrown together by a brutal racial attack _ the Surfaces, Wilson and Wilson's mother _ stood together for a photograph and smiled.

It was a terrible way for people to meet, Surface said.

"I'm glad that he's doing better," he said. "I just hope he gets over this mess, so he can get on with his own life."

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