Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Downtown robbery, sexual assault shock police and area merchants

Patrick Barbour, 35, of St. Petersburg stands in the alleyway behind the Grillside Central restaurant, where he is a waiter. Grillside has tightened its procedures: no more smoke breaks out here.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Patrick Barbour, 35, of St. Petersburg stands in the alleyway behind the Grillside Central restaurant, where he is a waiter. Grillside has tightened its procedures: no more smoke breaks out here.

ST. PETERSBURG — The crime shocked downtown residents and business owners.

Three masked, armed men forced their way into the Table early last Sunday morning as a busboy took out the trash. They stole cash, and an employee was sexually assaulted.

But as upsetting as police and community members found the incident, they said it doesn't reflect day-to-day crime downtown. Police reported a surge in strong-arm robberies lately, and downtown businesses said they sometimes have petty crime. But no one recalled an attack on the level of last weekend's.

"What happened … was a despicable crime and a tragedy for the Table and Mesa Lounge family," owner Rafael Manzano said in a statement.

The restaurant has upgraded its security system, put cameras at exits and is adding security personnel for special events, said Lindsey Nickel-de la O, spokeswoman for the Table. The business is also working with the Alexander Building to see what other security can be added.

Maj. Melanie Bevan, who oversees a district that includes downtown, said police are taking the Table incident "very, very seriously," with officers canvassing the neighborhood for tips and working every resource in the investigation.

"When it comes to something like this, we realize the impact," Bevan said.

At the same time, she said, "it doesn't happen very often in the downtown area."

Police haven't seen the usual surge in summer crime, she said. But over the last few weeks, police have noticed a pattern of men on bikes who commit strong-arm robberies early in the morning.

She said police have been patrolling heavily in response — both with a dozen dedicated officers who work downtown and district patrol officers.

A Times employee was robbed at gunpoint Thursday night outside the building on 490 First Ave. S. Police arrested a suspect who is charged with being an accessory to a robbery.

Shopkeepers along Central Avenue and Beach Drive have their complaints — especially about vagrancy — but agreed with the police assessment that Sunday's attack was an anomaly.

"If someone gets their purse snatched, that happens," said Anthony Nasso, manager of the Bella Brava trattoria on Central Avenue.

"For three guys to kick in the back door — that takes it to a different level."

After the robbery, employees at the Grillside Central restaurant began taking certain safety precautions. Now they wait until the morning to empty the trash and take cigarette breaks across the street instead of at the back of the restaurant, said Patrick Barbour, a server at Grillside Central.

"We tried to tighten ship because of what happened," Barbour said. "It seems like it would happen in Tampa or Miami, not St. Petersburg, that kind of aggressive crime," he said.

Bevan said businesses should advise their employees to work in pairs and to avoid a consistent pattern of behavior, like taking out the trash at the same time of day.

Some business patrons and employees have resigned themselves to seeing more crimes occur, with the rough economy pushing some people to desperation and tight budgets limiting city services.

"I'm not really surprised with what's going on in the economy that someone would take a chance like that to rob a restaurant," Barbour said.

Manny Matalon, manager of Daddy Kool Records, said he has noticed a decline in police presence over the years and wishes there would be more officers on patrol. But he recognizes police and businesses cannot stop every crime.

"I don't think there's much you can do to prevent that sort of thing from happening short of having a guy with a gun," he said.

Downtown robbery, sexual assault shock police and area merchants 08/09/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 2:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Watch: Gorilla dances like a 'maniac' in kiddie pool

    Blogs

    Zola, a gorilla who resides at the Dallas Zoo, has gone viral after showing off his dance moves.
  2. Bill Clinton coming to Miami Beach on Saturday for mayors' convention

    Blogs

    From our friends at the Miami Herald:

    Former President Bill Clinton gives the opening address to kick off a meeting of International Aid Groups at the InterAction Forum 2017 at the Washington Convention Center on June 20.
  3. Obama's secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin's election assault

    National

    WASHINGTON — Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried "eyes only" instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Barack Obama shake hands at the COP21 UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, France, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. [Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP]
  4. GOP's challenge: Finding votes for Senate health care bill (w/video)

    National

    WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has finally unwrapped his plan for dismantling President Barack Obama's health care law. Now comes his next challenge — persuading enough Republicans to back the measure and avert a defeat that could be shattering for President Donald Trump and the GOP.

    Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks to reporters at the Capitol after Republicans released their long-awaited bill to scuttle much of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 22, 2017. He is one of four GOP senators to say they are opposed it but are open to negotiations, which could put the measure in immediate jeopardy. [Associated Press]
  5. Trigaux: Halfway through 2017, a closer look at six drivers of the Tampa Bay economy

    Business

    We're nearly halfway through 2017 already, a perfect time to step back from the daily grind of business and ask: How's Tampa Bay's economy doing?

    Is there one theme or idea that captures the Tampa Bay brand? Not really but here's one possibility. The fun-loving annual Gasparilla "Invasion" of Tampa is captured in this photo of 
The Jose Gasparilla loaded with pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla on its way this past January to the Tampa Convention Center. In the future a vibrant downtown Tampa or St. Petersburg may be the better theme. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]