Second of two parts.
It’s always the same story.
One or more armed men burst into a convenience store, wave guns and demand cash, then flee with whatever is in the till.
Five of the nine armed robberies in rural Bulloch County this year targeted convenience stores.
Sheriff Lynn Anderson said although increased patrols and other measures are taken to keep citizens safe, convenience stores pose an easy target for robbers.
Since September, the City of Statesboro has seen 19 armed or violent robberies, while there have been just half that number in the county. Out of the nine reported armed robberies investigated by the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, all involved guns. Four involved people held up at their homes, including one case that was part of a murder, rape and kidnapping.
The number of armed robbery incidents in rural Bulloch County hasn’t increased in the recent years, Anderson said.
“It has been kind of steady, a little lower than usual,” he said.
Incidents of this type seem to increase in frequency in the latter part of the year, just like similar crimes inside the Statesboro city limits, he said.
“These incidents increase around the holidays,” he said. “Do they need money for Christmas? I don’t know if it’s that, but at this time of year we have more people out on patrol.”
The first of the five convenience store armed robberies in 2012 took place March 3 at 3:40 p.m. at Sweet T’s, a convenience store on Georgia Highway 67. Men with guns entered, flash their weapons, demanded cash and fled with the loot.
Pojo’s No. 2 on U.S. Highway 80 East was targeted next, a month later, April 4, around 4:45 p.m., but in this case the masked offenders were arrested. They forced the clerk into the store’s kitchen area after grabbing the money.
On Sept. 11, at 9:35 p.m., the Snack Barrel No. 17 on Sinkhole Road at Georgia Highway 46 was targeted. Video shows a man walking in, looking around and waiting on the clerk to come in from duties outside the store. The suspect pulled a handgun, demanded cash, and ordered the clerk to lie down on the floor as he fled. He stole the money in the till as well as a single pack of Newport cigarettes.
Zip N Foods on Old River Road North near U.S. Highway 301 North was the next convenience store to be robbed in Bulloch County. Suspects burst in just before 8 p.m. Nov. 27 and pointed a gun at the clerk, demanding cash.
On Dec. 2, two armed suspects robbed the Fast Stop on U.S. 80 East near Grove Lakes Subdivision, around 9:40 p.m.
Two suspects were charged in that incident and might be linked to other crimes.
“Out of the nine armed robberies (in Bulloch County in 2012), we have solved six,” Anderson said.
No one has been injured in the incidents.
“Trust me, we all know how lucky we are that we have not had body killed at one of these convenience stores,” he said during a recent meeting of local law enforcement leaders at the Statesboro Herald office.
Bulloch County sheriff’s deputies always patrol convenience stores as part of their daily routine. They make sure they have contact with the clerks, and often sit and observe activity going on around the store, he said.
“They make sure the clerks know they are there, and they give us a signal” to let the deputies know they are OK, he said.
There isn’t a great deal that can be done about armed robberies.
“If they’re open for business, open to the public, it’s a very hard thing to stop,” the sheriff said.
Clerks can be extra vigilant and watch for suspicious vehicles, calling law enforcement to report unusual activity.
Convenience store owner Perry Sumner, who owns several Pojos locations as well as other stores in adjacent counties, agrees with Anderson that putting a halt to the armed robberies is next to impossible.
“You can’t afford to hire armed security at the stores,” he said. “You can’t sit in the stores with armed guards, and if you did, there could be a shootout and we don’t want that.”
Two suspects arrested in recent armed robberies also robbed one of Sumner’s Screven County stores earlier this year, he said.
“They (law enforcement investigators) have linked several (armed robberies) to him,” Sumner said.
Anderson reminds convenience store clerks and owners that the sheriff’s office is always available to escort them from the stores upon closing.
“They can call for an escort to the bank or home,” he said. “If they are uncomfortable, we are more than happy to escort them to their front door.”
That might have been an option for some convenience store owners Oct. 8, who were accosted outside their Irongate subdivision home on Julieann Way at 12:15 a.m.
The suspects had firearms, and after an investigation, three were arrested on charges of kidnapping, armed robbery, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Two other armed robberies occurring this year involved guns and took place in or near the victims’ homes. On Sept. 19, a Portal woman called police after two men dressed in camouflage, gloves and ski masks, wielding rifles, broke into her Claudia Street home around 3:45 a.m. and stole financial transaction cards, prescription medications and a watch.
On Oct. 28, a couple were outside their Banks Dairy Road home when two men stopped around 5:30 p.m., held them at gunpoint and robbed them of $225. They left in a two-tone Dodge car with a female passenger.
The first armed robbery of the year happened at 1 a.m. Jan. 15 at Swallowtail Drive. A man shot and killed his girlfriend, raped her teenage daughter, then stole her financial transaction cards and other valuables before kidnapping the teen and taking her to another county. The suspect is behind bars.
Being vigilant and observant is the best way to avoid being a target, Anderson said. Calling the sheriff’s office or other local law enforcement is advisable whenever any suspicious activity is spotted.
“We’d rather come check and it be nothing then not check and it end up an armed robbery,” he said.
Sumner said he feels the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and Statesboro police are doing an excellent job of not only patrolling, but solving the crimes.
The armed robbery suspects “are almost always caught,” he said. “We’re blessed in Bulloch County with law enforcement. They do a very good job, and my hat is off to them. But their hands are tied when the suspects are behind bars.”
The legal system is faulty, he said. An armed robbery suspect is bound to go to jail, and prison if convicted, but they don’t stay in prison long enough and when they are freed, commit the same crime again.
One suspect who robbed his Sylvania store and is linked to several armed robberies in Bulloch County was just released from prison two weeks before robbing Rusty’s in Sylvania, he said.
Sumner’s stores have been targeted more than once; his Pojo’s stations in Bulloch County have been robbed many times in the past.
“We catch every one” of the suspects, he said. “We’ve never had one not (be solved by arrest) except one at the store on the interstate (Pojo’s on Interstate 16 and U.S. 301 South).
The key to helping solve the robberies is a good video surveillance system, he said. Video shots of suspects have helped law enforcement on many occasions.
“Somebody is going to recognize that face,” Sumner said.
Robbing convenience stores isn’t a very lucrative effort, as most stores keep a limited amount of cash in the till, because clerks drop anything over that amount into safes that they cannot access, he said.
“It’s not profitable to rob a convenience store,” Sumner said. “Is it worth $100 to go to prison?”
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.