Pizza deliverers pay the price in dangers

August 23, 1994|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

The average number of robberies involving Baltimore pizza businesses was incorrectly reported in an article that appeared Tuesday in The Sun. A pizza deliverer or pizzeria is robbed approximately once every three days, according to city police.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Pizza Express delivery man Gregory Baron wasn't carrying much of value, just four pizzas and a bottle of orange Slice. But that made no difference to the young thugs who bashed his head with a bat on Sunday and ran off with the food.

"I ran out into the street yelling for help. I was able to outrun [the guy who hit me,] and he and the other guys grabbed the pizzas and sodas and ran off," recalled Mr. Baron, 26, who was attacked during a delivery to the Pioneer Village complex near Severn.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Mr. Baron, who was treated at North Arundel Hospital and released, is one of the latest deliverers to be victimized in a wave of violence against pizza employees in the Baltimore area.

In Baltimore alone, a pizza deliverer is robbed -- on average -- every three days. City police reported 115 robberies of pizza deliverers last year, and 51 so far this year.

In Sunday's attack, police arrested three juveniles and charged them as adults in a crime that netted no more than $30 in food and soda.

Pizza deliverers are vulnerable to armed robberies, beatings and carjackings as they venture into neighborhoods -- some of them dark and dangerous -- carrying cash. They never know whether a caller really wants pizza or is luring them to a location where they could face death or serious injury.

In the Baltimore area during the past month, one pizza delivery man was slain. And in addition to Mr. Baron, at least two more drivers were robbed and wounded, according to police reports.

Gerard Massey, 18, was one. He was shot in the left arm and back Aug. 12 while delivering a Vizzini's pizza to the 2600 block of S. Paca St. and spent six days at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Mr. Massey has decided that the pizza business isn't for him.

"When I was laying on the ground, I said, if I was going to live, I wasn't going to go back and do the same thing over. I got shot . . . it ain't worth it," he said from his bed last week. "I mean, I thought I was going to die."

On Aug. 10, a 23-year-old Russian immigrant, Igor Berenshteyn, was shot to death after a botched robbery attempt when he tried to deliver a pizza to a Pimlico residence. Mr. Berenshteyn had come to America about 18 months ago to start a new life.

In Pittsburgh, almost a year ago, two teens lured a pizza driver into an ambush with a late night order, shot the driver to death, then ate the pizza. In Indiana, angry pizza deliverers threatened to arm themselves to thwart robbers.

"It happens at least once a month or twice a month," said Shah Chishti, manager of Pizz-A-Boli in the 200 block of N. Patterson Park Ave. in Highlandtown. "We cannot shut down the businesses, and in order to survive we have to deliver."

To avoid deadly dangers, some pizzerias limit the areas to which their drivers can deliver.

"We have to set limits, because it's not worth it to get hurt over a $6 pizza," said Andy Makris, manager and part-owner of Pepe's Pizza in Ruxton. "After 8 or 9 o'clock we try to limit ourselves to Towson and Parkville. I would love to deliver in the Pimlico area, but it's a few people that make it so bad.

"All the drug dealers are on the corners. I wouldn't want my kids delivering to that area. I'm not going to do it," Mr. Makris said.

Some deliverers are undaunted by the robbers, who have come to be a sad fact of life in the pizza business.

"I don't mind, if I get a reasonable salary so I can pay my bills and feed my family," said 42-year-old Muhammad Zahoor, a Pizz-A-Boli delivery man who was robbed eight months ago at a North Baltimore apartment complex.

"I called the people up and said I'm going to be there in five minutes," Mr. Zahoor said. "When I got there, I blow the horn, and nobody comes out. The next thing I see, it's two men, coming at me with a gun."

But the experience hasn't frightened him away from his job, which he has had for two years. He looked for another job, but the only prospect was a $4-an-hour job at a gas station. So he stuck with delivering, making more money -- but he won't say how much.

"We're scared when we go to a bad neighborhood, but it's a job. Things are not too good outside anyway; it doesn't matter where you go. You get mugged even if you don't deliver."

Rayshad Beetath, 21, thinks getting robbed is just part of the job. Mr. Beetath, who delivers for Pepe's Pizza in Ruxton, says, "Because you got robbed once, you can't quit."

He has been driving for about 6 months and says on a good day he makes about $15 an hour, but that comes at a price. "It's like a risk you are taking," he said. He was robbed last summer while delivering a pizza in the 2900 block of Manhattan Ave. "A man put a gun to my head and said, 'give me all the cash.' I just followed through with what they said. I had over $100 that night."

Virtually all pizzeria managers interviewed said they tell their drivers to give up any cash and food when they are robbed.

Also, many managers take precautions such as using caller identification. Tracing a call that way assures them that it does not come from a pay phone, a common strategy robbers use to set up drivers.

Peter Vazquez, regional security director for Domino's Pizza Inc. and whose office covers the area between New York and Norfolk, Va., would not elaborate on the security techniques used by its drivers. Their drivers carry no more than $20, he said.

"We don't want to let the bad guys know what we do [to avoid robberies]," he said.

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