Men Wonder If Foiling Robbery Was Heroic

February 17, 1991|By Robert Lee | Robert Lee,Staff writer

Are they heroes or just plain crazy?

The three Lake Shore Plaza Safeway employees who tackled a 6-foot-3 bomb-and gun-toting robber and tied him up until authorities arrived Tuesday night can't even decide themselves.

"Some of my friends say I was crazy to do it, but you can't let people get away with stuff like (armed robbery). Someone's got to stopthem," said Sean McClure, the 130-pound, 18-year-old clerk from Severna Park High who tackled the so-called "ponytail robber" from behindafter a chase through the parking lot.

"But if I'd known he had agun I would have thought twice. . . . I thought he was just another shoplifter. I always wanted to do that," McClure said.

But by the time the "ponytail robber" -- identified by police as Gregory Lloyd Gasper of the Annapolis area -- showed the gun, McClure already had knocked him down once and was clutching his neck.

"The adrenalin wasflowing. He fumbled the gun and I just sort of kicked it away," McClure recounted.

The fake bomb didn't come out until store manager Ray Hinchleffe and clerk Ben Baldi -- both of Baltimore County -- had caught up and had the suspect pinned to the asphalt outside a neighboring liquor store.

"I was holding his head. Sean was on his legs and Ben was on his back when he pulled out this thing that looked likea remote control for a TV. He said he had a bomb and: 'I'm going to kill you (expletive), I don't care if I kill myself. If you don't letme go I'm going to kill all of us,' " Hinchleffe said.

"Poor Ben.It was his first day at the store. He looked at me and asked what todo. I just said hold on," Hinchleffe said.

"I guessed it was fake," McClure said.

"I took a calculated risk," Hinchleffe said, adding that the bombs used in other robberies in which Gasper is a suspect were fake.

Hinchleffe was the only one of the three who had any idea that the man they were dealing with was a suspect in 14 different robberies -- including those at four different Safeways -- in the past five weeks.

Hinchleffe recognized Gasper when he saw "this funny looking guy creeping around behind the Big 'n' Thirsty Towels" display from descriptions given by police and the Safeway security network.

"I asked him 'Hey you, what do you want?' and all of the sudden he hit me in the head with his basket and took off. I was sort of knocked back and that's when Sean flew past me. He had no idea who he was chasing," Hinchleffe said.

McClure, a former running back on Severna Park High's football team, made a perfect leg tackle on the suspect after about a 100-yard chase, bursting through the store's sliding automatic doors in the process.

McClure, who has signed up fordelayed entry into the Army as an MP after he graduates from high school, said he's interested in police work and would like to be a detective or private eye after that.

He says his family has mixed emotions about his heroics.

"In one way, they thought I was stupid butin another way they know what I did is good. My dad put it as, 'You were lucky this time.' "

Gasper was taken into custody by county police and was charged with five counts of armed robbery and two counts of attempted armed robbery.

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