Two more GF businesses robbedA man with a gun and wearing a ski mask held up a clerk at Taco Bell, 1301 S. Washington St., at 2:07 p.m. Sunday. A similar-sized man with a handgun and wearing a ski mask held up Budget Music, 716 S. Washington St., at 2:25 p.m. said Sgt. Derek Zimmel.
By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald
Two Grand Forks businesses a few blocks apart on South Washington Street were robbed Sunday afternoon within minutes of each other by an armed, masked man, police said.
A man with a gun and wearing a ski mask held up a clerk at Taco Bell, 1301 S. Washington St., at 2:07 p.m. Sunday. A similar-sized man with a handgun and wearing a ski mask held up Budget Music, 716 S. Washington St., at 2:25 p.m. said Sgt. Derek Zimmel.
The robber at Taco Bell struck out, leaving with no cash. At Budget Music, he got away with about $500, store owners said.
It's the seventh armed robbery since Dec. 9, and no arrests have been made nor suspects identified.
The armed robber got nothing at Taco Bell, thanks to security systems and well-trained employees, said John Serati, the Fargo man who owns 15 Taco Bells across the state, including the two in Grand Forks.
“We’ve got state-of-the-art technology, a safe on time-delay, video both inside and out,” Serati said. “He came in, showed the gun, demanded money, was told only a manager could open the safe and that takes time. So, he got mad, said something, I guess, threw something down and stormed out.”
The man wore a mask of some sort, pulled down over his face, Serati said.
One of his employees was shaken up by the episode, but nobody got hurt, he said.
The man apparently wanted money fast because after leaving Taco Bell frustrated and empty-handed, he struck Budget Music only minutes after police arrived at Taco Bell, Serati said.
Police said the 911 call from Taco Bell came in at 2:07 p.m. Sunday, only seconds after the robber left. The robber was described as 5 feet, 8 inches to 6 feet tall, with a thin build, wearing a brown or tan camouflage-pattern jacket, medium-colored blue jeans, dark shoes and a dark-colored ski mask, police said.
He left the store and ran south.
The call from Budget Music came in at 2:25 p.m., shortly after the robber left the store.
Budget Music is about five blocks north of the Taco Bell, and across South Washington on the east side.
Brandon Maier, 22, was behind the counter at Budget Music, which is owned by his father, Dan Maier.
The robber came in dressed in all dark clothing, with a dark, probably black, jacket of solid color, not camouflage pattern, and dark pants and a black ski mask, Maier said.
“He was about 5 (feet) 8 (inches), on the thinner side. He looked white,” said Maier, who said he could see the man’s eyes.
“He pulled out a gun, pointed it down to the side, a black and silver semi-automatic. He just asked for the money.”
The man got away with about $500.
“I’m not happy about that,” said Dan Maier, who was called by his son as soon as it happened.
The man walked out of the store, and Brandon Maier said he couldn’t tell if he had a vehicle nearby.
“He seemed kind of edgy,” Maier said. “It was not the most enjoyable thing.”
Zimmel said the man walked out of Budget Music and ran north and west.
The police report says the Budget Music robber was wearing a dark, perhaps black, hooded sweatshirt, dark pants, and was 5 feet, 8 inches to 6 feet tall.
Serati said he just had a training session with his Taco Bell store managers Thursday to talk about the rash of robberies in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.
“This guy is like a walking time bomb,” he said. It ups the concern of stores like his for employees’ safety.
The time-delay safes mean that even managers often can’t get into the store’s cash receipts for as long as a day, Serati said. “I don’t think he will be coming back to our stores.”
His employees did everything right, and his stores’ technology means the police likely will get high-resolution, top-quality video images of the robber, both coming and going in and out of the store, and perhaps even if he got into a vehicle some distance away, Serati said.
It’s not known for certain that all seven robberies are connected, but the similarities are striking, to say the least, Sgt. Derek Zimmel said.
“Whether it’s the same individual or the same two guys or copycats in some of these, we are looking at every possible angle,” Zimmel said. “There are certainly some striking similarities, but I can’t say absolutely it’s the same person.”
Police told him it looked as if the robber first tried to get in the back door of Budget Music, which was locked, before coming in the front door, Maier said.
This unusual regular beat of armed robberies is bothering business owners and employees, and it’s especially worrisome to have your son working when it happened, Dan Maier said.
“I told every one of my employees if someone comes in just give him the money. Nobody wants to be shot.”
Dan Maier said this robber, if it is one person doing all the armed robberies, might get in trouble with a store worker who is packing heat.
He happens to own a permit to carry a concealed weapon, Dan Maier said.
“I personally asked the police if I can carry when I’m behind the counter. They said I could. Then, I asked if I was working, did I have the right to shoot another human being. They said if someone points a gun in your face, you can.”
“If this guy keeps on doing this, somebody is going to have a gun behind the counter one day, and he’s going to get shot,” Dan Maier said, then added, it could be a store employee who gets shot, too.
Before Sunday, four businesses in Grand Forks and one in East Grand Forks have been robbed by an armed, masked man since Dec. 9 in what police think could be the work of one criminal.
It appears Sunday’s two incidents are connected to each other and to the others, but it’s not known for certain, Zimmel said.
The description of the man who tried to rob Taco Bell fits generally with the size and build of the man police figure has pulled the first five armed robberies. In three of the first five robberies, a total of about $2,942 was stolen.
The armed robberies were: Fairfield Inn, 3051 S. 34th St., Dec. 9; Discontent, 1429 S. Washington, Dec. 11; Simonson Station, on Gateway Drive near the Red River, Dec. 12; Big Cigs Valley Dairy, 1207 N. Fifth St.; Orton’s on the Point in East Grand Forks, Friday.
The Big Cigs is two blocks from Simonson; Discontent is little more than a block from Taco Bell.
All the physical descriptions of the robber in each case are roughly similar. But Sunday’s two cases appear to involve different clothing, raising the question whether it means one man changing clothes quickly or two men working together.
In several of the robberies, the man was described as dark-skinned, either a “tanned white man,” or possibly a Hispanic or American Indian. Prominent eyebrows were described in several cases.
Brandon Maier said the man who robbed Budget Music on Sunday appeared to be white, based on what he could see of his eyes. The man wore a “winter-type mask” and possibly a dark-colored stocking cap, police said.
It could appear a vehicle was probably used Sunday to pull off the robbery and attempted robbery within 20 minutes, six blocks away from each other.
While a person could walk the distance in that time, it would seem to be a method that would attract attention especially in this time of heightened concern and awareness, Zimmel said.
“That’s always been a theory, that it’s possibly two guys, that there is a second person in a vehicle nearby,” Zimmel said.
In the Friday’s robbery at Orton’s, witnesses said the man got into an older, white car.
Police are working extra hours not only running down leads but trying to enhance security at businesses open at night and at locations deemed “vulnerable” to armed robbery, Zimmel said.
One convenience store clerk said police have increased the frequency of their regular nightly stops which are to aid law enforcement more than provide them with coffee or a doughnut.
“We have put more bodies out there,” Zimmel said. “We are trying to be really cognizant of trying to have our people out there, being in the neighborhoods of any business open during the evening.”
The public also is active, turning in lots of tips any time something looks suspicious, Zimmel said.
“I’m sure the investigations bureau is going to have their hands full with all this in the upcoming week, and I know they have been, as an entire unit, working very, very hard to bring this to an end.”
Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to email@example.com.