Fired worker recalls attack

Former manager of Red Lobster recounts break-in

Loses job next day

January 18, 2001|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

As he was closing the Columbia Red Lobster just after midnight Jan. 10, kitchen manager Sean Lawrence was attacked by two robbers who bound, pistol-whipped and threatened to kill him before finally leaving the restaurant.

For his trouble, Lawrence was fired by Red Lobster a day later, apparently because he had violated the company's security regulations.

Lawrence is left with stiff muscles, a welt on his head and a sense of bewilderment. "I was fired for getting robbed," he said.

The restaurant, in Snowden Square Shopping Center, referred all questions to its corporate headquarters in Florida, where a spokesman declined to comment on Lawrence's case, except to confirm that he no longer works for the company.

Lawrence, 36, worked for Red Lobster for nearly five years. He spent 2 1/2 years at the Snowden Square location, across Snowden River Parkway from the townhouse he shares with his wife and three children.

In an interview last week, Lawrence gave the following account of the robbery; Howard County police corroborated the general outline of what happened.

Lawrence said he was the only Red Lobster employee in the restaurant after it closed at 10 p.m. The cash taken in that day was in the office safe. A crew of carpet cleaners, independent contractors from Baltimore, came in about 10:30 p.m., walking out about two hours later.

When they left, Lawrence walked to the back of the restaurant to turn off the lights.

In the kitchen, he said, he set aside some old carrot cake to be thrown out the next day. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone quickly walk to his left, as if headed for the office.

When Lawrence turned to look, he said, the intruder stopped and headed toward him, pointing a handgun. He was wearing a dark down coat, which was pulled up to conceal his face. Then Lawrence saw a second man in a down coat, wearing a ski mask and carrying a roll of duct tape. The masked man grabbed Lawrence and put tape over his eyes and mouth, then made him lie face-down on the kitchen floor, which was still wet from the evening's cleaning. He also taped Lawrence's hands behind his back.

Lawrence said he began thinking about his children, and about the very real possibility that he was about to die. He wanted to tell the robbers something.

When he began to speak, the tape came off his mouth. He said he told the robbers that he would not be able to let them into the restaurant's safe if his hands were tied.

They undid the tape around his hands and right eye, and they all went to the safe, he said. At first, the robbers tried to open it themselves, but the combination Lawrence gave them wasn't working.

"You do it," one of the men said, according to Lawrence.

He tried the combination, but it failed. He tried it again. No luck.

"Oh, my God, why now?" Lawrence said he thought to himself.

The man with the gun slammed it against Lawrence's head, he said. "I'm gonna count to 10, and you'd better open that [expletive] safe," the man shouted, bellowing the countdown into Lawrence's ear.

Lawrence tried the combination again, and this time it worked, he said. The robbers forced him to the office floor and taped him up again. This time they left nothing to chance, wrapping and rewrapping the roll of tape around his head and hands. For good measure, they taped his feet. His eyes were covered, but his mouth was left free.

They dragged him feet-first back into the kitchen, he said. He heard some footsteps and rustling, then nothing but the loud hum of the ice machine.

After several minutes, he decided that the men might have left. Using his elbows and heels, he said, he made his way to the office, where he knew there was a phone on the desk. He wriggled into a chair and grabbed the phone cord with his teeth, pulling the receiver onto his lap. He dialed 911 with his nose, and the operator stayed on the line with him until the police came.

In an effort to put the incident behind him, Lawrence said, he opened the restaurant about 12 hours after the attack. An official from Red Lobster headquarters told him that having only one person close a restaurant violated company policy, but Lawrence said he was assured that his job was not in danger.

The next day, Jan. 11, Lawrence came in for an evening shift. Minutes after his arrival, according to Lawrence, one of the restaurant's managers told him he had been fired because he had been alone at closing time.

Lawrence, who said the policy was routinely violated at the Columbia Red Lobster, and his wife said they are planning a lawsuit.

Red Lobster spokesman Jim DeSimone said, "Because a violation of our safety policy has the potential for harming employees and guests, we believe we have a responsibility to enforce these policies diligently, fairly and impartially."

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