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Store owners near robbed McDonald's not worried

March 22, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - As city police on Tuesday looked for four men who robbed McDonald's on North Queen Street at gunpoint, no one was panicking at other shops in the neighborhood.

The managers of several other stores, particularly fast-food restaurants, had their own crime stories to report. But no one was writing off the neighborhood as dangerous.

"We don't have problems like that," said Joe Lightcap, working at nearby Dunkin' Donuts on Edwin Miller Boulevard. "It's pretty nice here."

Sunday night's armed robbery "surprised a lot of people here," said Vicki Rogers, the manager at Dunkin' Donuts. "It's scary, real scary, but ... just unusual."

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On Sunday night, McDonald's closes at 10 p.m. This week, a man with a handgun forced his way in at about midnight, as one of three employees working the late shift was leaving, according to Martinsburg Police Detective Sgt. George Swartwood.

The gunman ordered the three employees - two women and one man - to stay in a walk-in freezer, Swartwood said. Then, the gunman allegedly let three accomplices inside, including one man who had a sawed-off shotgun.

One of the female employees was forced to open a safe and the robbers stole cash, according to police. Swartwood said police have an idea how much cash it was but aren't divulging the amount.

After spending "several minutes" locked in the freezer, the employees got themselves out and called police, Swartwood said.

He said there have been no other witnesses so far, and police don't know yet if the robbers escaped on foot or in a vehicle.

The initial gunman was described as a black man, about 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-10 with a medium build and in his early or mid-20s. His clothes were dark.

A McDonald's manager said the restaurant is not commenting on the robbery.

Police have asked anyone with information to call them at 1-304-264-2100.

"We are following up on leads, but we have nothing to get a warrant yet," Swartwood said.

Also on Sunday night, someone broke into Little Caesars at the Old Courthouse Square, where Edwin Miller Boulevard meets North Queen Street, sometime after it had closed.

Store manager Robin Easterday said the front door pane was smashed in, but the burglars didn't get anything. They tried but failed to open a locked safe, she said, and they ignored the cash register and other money.

Swartwood said the two crimes are probably not connected.

Easterday said she warns her employees not to leave the back door open for air and to lock the front door as soon as the shop closes, especially when counting money.

"When it gets darker, people get bolder," she said.

Marilyn Gorrell, owner of the Subway shop next to Little Caesars, said she was told the area was "good" when her store opened in September.

A month ago, Subway was burglarized.

Gorrell said she had security cameras right from the start. But whoever stole a few hundred dollars from her shop also took the surveillance tape, she said.

Easterday said there is not enough business to justify Little Caesars hiring more people to work nights.

Gorrell said it's imperative for her "just because I want to protect my employees."

Alison Scott, co-owner of Colonial Jewelers, still thinks the Old Courthouse Square neighborhood is a good place to do business - despite having her own break-in tale.

In 1996, someone smashed a window and took about $5,000 worth of watches that were left out of the safe because there was no room, Scott said.

One incident in 13 years of business isn't enough to make her move, she said.

The managers at two other restaurants near McDonald's also said they haven't experienced major problems with crime.

"It could happen anywhere," said Ming Cheung, manager at Chinatown.

He said people are more likely to congregate downtown. While near his restaurant, people come to eat, then leave.

The main problem at Giovanni's New York Pizza is stragglers from local bars who get too noisy, said manager Shawn Carden.

However, about two or three years ago, someone broke in and stole what was in the register, about $10, he said.

At Dunkin' Donuts, Lightcap said the cameras are a deterrent. "They'll think twice about it before (they) do anything."

Rogers said it also helps having the state police down the street, the city police on frequent patrols, vigilant neighbors and a large front window through which officers can see the whole inside.

Swartwood, who couldn't recall the last armed robbery in that area, said officers have been instructed to "promptly answer alarms, not to be complacent."

Stores that are open late will get extra attention from patrols, he said.

Also, city police officers will pick random times to walk up to stores and make sure their secure, Swartwood said. Officers have left notes at Little Caesars to say they've checked it, Easterday said.

Christina Tseng, the manager of Popeye's, where the drive-through window has been smashed twice, said she always has employees walk her to her car.

A sensitive alarm system and frequent patrols have kept the restaurant safe, she said.

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