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Pizza delivery drivers target of robberies
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Chu Kim prepares to deliver a pizza to a Wedgy's customer. He's worked for Wedgy's for just a few months and, so far, has not been robbed at gunpoint. - photo by Phgoto by Patty Leon
On Jan. 18, within one hour, two different pizza shops, Wedgy's Pizza on Memorial Drive and Papa Johns off Oglethorpe Highway, had delivery drivers held up at gunpoint, according to reports filed with the Liberty County Sheriff's Department.
Seven days earlier, another Papa Johns driver was held at gunpoint in what is developing as a pattern here and in areas around Pooler, Richmond Hill and Savannah.
And authorities say the crime is increasing, even though the criminals normally get little money and face stiff jail time for violent crimes that put the drivers in danger.
In the two of the January robberies they lost $53 and $120 in cash as well as three pizzas.
Most pizza companies are using security measures that have drivers carrying little cash. The most a robber may get away with, when these measures are used is around $20 and the pizzas.
"That is the safety standard for pizza delivery for as long as I can remember," Wedgy's owner Neil Duncan said. "It keeps the drivers safer. They have less money on them to accidentally drop or lose, and keeps the money safe."
Duncan has been in the pizza business for nearly 15 years, including the last four with his own franchise.
The latest string of robberies has a pattern. The delivery person is called to a mobile home park. All three took place between 7:30-9:30 p.m. In two of the cases one person met the driver in front of the residence and someone came up behind them with the gun, demanding cash. In the other case the delivery man thought the residence may be unoccupied only to have a man beckon him to the back of the house while someone came up from behind with a gun.
Liberty County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Keith Moran said his officers are working closely with other agencies to track case similarities and methods, but conceded it will be hard to capture the robbers.
"You will see this type of crime come in and then it becomes sporadic and goes away and armed robbery is a very difficult case to solve unless you have some good descriptions," he said. "And when you are delivering a pizza in the dark to a mobile home park it's a tough call. A lot of times you will see that when they are doing it at one place they will be also doing in at another so we pool our resources with other agencies to increasing our probability in solving the case."
Moran said the office works with companies to remind them to get call back numbers and use them to verify addresses and information.
"We have very strict safety and security measures that we follow here," Robert Coppage, manager of Dominoes Pizza on Memorial Drive, said. "The drivers are not allowed to carry more than $20 in change on their run. We always do call backs on suspicious orders and orders that do not come up on our caller ID. Because of these measures we've had maybe two incidents since I've been manager."
Coppage said it is hard to recognize legitimate calls.
"We get a lot of different cell phone numbers here being it's a military community. So it's not suspicious to get calls from phones with different area codes and numbers," he said.
And if divers "get to the house and things look suspicious they are told not to get out of the car. They are supposed to call the customer at that point and if things don't look or feel right they are told to bring the order back to the store and not take the risk."
Hinesville Police Detectives Maj. Thomas Cribbs said Hinesville had a rash of these crimes for a while, but lately it has occurred more within the county than city. He agrees with Moran that the cases are hard to pursue.
"They are hard to investigate because you don't have anybody who can give you information," he said. "Normally there are no witnesses."
Cribbs said his department has been fortunate in prosecuting cases in the past and normally the robbers are given stiff sentences. According to Cribbs armed robbery carries a minimum of 10 years in prison, depending on the circumstances.
Moran advises the companies that their employees are worth more then the losses they may sustain.
"We advise them not to resist, give them the money and the pizza and let them go." Moran also believes the small money involved are tied into other crimes.
"Well, history predicates that a big majority of our property crimes come back to drug or alcohol involvement," he said. "Which is the main reason staying proactive with our counter narcotics squad like MACE keeps the property crime down."
Duncan wants potential criminals to know his company prosecutes.
"In the end, robbing a pizza driver carries the same penalty as robbing a bank," he said.
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