Local merchants ask, quot;Who is in control?quot;

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 6, 2001

Edna and Ron Newton returned to Greenville six months ago to retire, and opened up a "Mom and Pop" grocery store and since that time they have had major problems with crime.

"I am very irate and upset about it," said Edna Newton. "I grew up in the Chapman community, and my husband is from Greenville. We moved here six months ago from Mississippi, expecting simply to retire to the peaceful' community of Greenville."

From the very onset, Newton says it has been a nightmare. "About six weeks after we opened up our store (Max-Mart South on South Conecuh Street), someone broke into the side door of the store, and stole some beer, cigars and cigarettes, about $500 worth of merchandise," she said. "So then we installed burglar bars on the door. Next, they broke into the front door, and stole a full display of Newport cigarettes, about 12 cartons–again we placed bars on the door."

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Newton said the caliber of crime increased on November 3, 2000. "They hit us this time by coming into the store with a gun," she said. "It was just after that store on College Street was robbed that they came in here with a small silver-colored automatic weapon."

Newton said the havoc did not end at that point, either. "Next, since both doors now had bars installed on them, the hoods broke out the big plate-glass window in front," she said. "I think the alarm system scared them away that time, because, best as we can tell, all they took was a two-liter drink."

Newton said "icing" was put on the cake on Tuesday night, and she wants answers for it.

She said that the holdup was already in progress when she walked into the store. "Just Tuesday night I returned to the store after visiting my mother at the nursing home before 7 p.m.

"As I walked into the store, I had a gun shoved in my face, and was ordered to drop my purse and kneel on the floor-these two sorry hoodlums were already holding my husband, our employee and three of our customers at gunpoint! They showed no fear of being caught in the act by the police or anyone else," she said.

"It started out with the one man with a gun entering alone, and he moved everyone behind the counter, then against the wall," Ron Newton said. " He then opened the side door and called his partner, a taller black male, to come inside.

"A customer who had just paid for $20 worth of gasoline was there and Peggy (the clerk) had the cash register drawer opened."

Ron Newton said that after cleaning out the register, the gunman shoved him behind the counter and onto to his knees, demanding more money. "He said, I know you have more money, get it or I'll shoot you dead!"

"Ron handed him a cigar box that held some more money in it, and he was satisfied for the moment," Edna Newton said.

She said that everyone entering the store became a victim of the terror. "Next, a man came into the store to pay for his gas, as his wife waited in the car-his wife looked into the store and saw him as he raised his hands in the air to the robbers' demands, and she drove away to call for help."

Newton said that the woman drove to a residence down the street and knocked on the door, demanding that the occupants call 9-1-1.

"It wasn't long after the lady left that we saw a police car drive past us without stopping. The officers explained that they had to respond to the call of someone banging on the door before they knew we were being robbed," Newton said.

She said that before the gunmen were through with their victims, they had quite a haul. "They got nearly $1,400 from the cash register, $9 from my husband's wallet, $5 from a customer, $80 from another customer, and then they took a lady's purse. There was no money in it, and she pleaded with him to leave it, because it had all of her identification in it, so he gave it back to her."

Greenville Police Chief Lonzo Ingram said in an interview on Thursday afternoon that all leads were being followed through.

"This case is being aggressively investigated, with every resource that we have," Ingram said. "Every lead we get is being followed, and I want to remind the public that there is a $1,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for this or any other armed-robberies in Greenville."

Edna Newton said she got a good look at the robbers. "I was down on my knees, and I got a good look at them, the whole time they were here. The first man was about 5-foot-eight, and was wearing a dark blue-colored one-piece ski mask, drab-green pants, a dark-colored jacket, and I noticed that the jacket had some type of yellow-colored flecks in the fabric. He had black tennis shoes with zippers in front of them, and wore dark-colored knit gloves."

Newton said that she was able to see the man's facial features. "He kept tugging at the mask, pulling it down from his face, so I could see that he was a black man, with a moustache and had whiskers on his chin."

She said that the second robber was considerably taller than the first. "He was taller than six feet, and was slender-built, wearing a red-knit sweater-type cap on his head, with a red bandana covering his face," she said. "He wore a dark blue jacket and pants, and he had on white-colored tennis shoes, with a silver "swoosh" design on the side-they had silvery-blue, plastic-looking laces in them."

Newton said that the second man also was gloved. "He had on white gloves like baseball players wear, that said Franklin on them."

"I can understand and appreciate peoples' frustrations when they are the victims of this type of crime," Chief Ingram said.

"It is the police department's responsibility to protect the lives and property of this community. When crimes like this do occur, it is our responsibility to apprehend those responsible for the crimes."

Newton said the robbers fled on foot, exiting the side door of the store. "They ran behind the store, through the pasture," she said.

"Customers have told me since the robbery that there is a lot of talk on the hill' (Methodist Hill Park) about it," Ron Newton said. "I am sure the investigators are doing whatever they can to follow the leads through."

"I want some answers," Edna Newton said. "I would like to know why the bad guys-the burglars, robbers, hoodlums, dopers and crack-heads are in control! We have been robbed at gunpoint twice, now-we are being terrorized by these punks, and so far not one of them has been arrested and charged with any of these crimes, much less convicted!"

"We are working as hard as we can to solve these crimes," said Chief Ingram, "We will see them solved as quickly as possible."