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Mail carrier thwarts robbery of blind man in wheelchair in Clearwater

Dino Papadakis, 77, holds a shotgun on Wednesday. Papadakis was dumped him out of his wheelchair, kicked and robbed a week ago at Gold Diggers, a gold and silver shop in Clearwater.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Dino Papadakis, 77, holds a shotgun on Wednesday. Papadakis was dumped him out of his wheelchair, kicked and robbed a week ago at Gold Diggers, a gold and silver shop in Clearwater.

CLEARWATER — Dino Papadakis is 77 years old, legally blind and in a wheelchair because of back injuries.

So he was no match when a pair of teenagers came into his family's store last week, dumped him from his wheelchair, punched him, kicked him, put a loaded gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

"I'm going to die," Papadakis thought.

But the gun, which the teens had just stolen from Papadakis, didn't discharge.

Papadakis lay on the floor, staring at the ceiling. He caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye and turned his head toward the window.

And there was U.S. Postal Service mail carrier Jeff Brock.

It was the day after Memorial Day, a traditionally busy day in the world of postal workers, and Brock wasn't even supposed to be working Papadakis' route that day, he said.

But a last-minute switch and a new start time for his shift meant Brock came along right as the teenagers were running out of the store, a gold and silver dealer on Gulf to Bay Boulevard called Gold Diggers.

Brock heard Papadakis yell for help, he said.

"I went in the door and I saw him in the wheelchair, flat on his back," said Brock, 40.

Brock dialed 911 on his cell phone and told a dispatcher which way the attackers were headed. They had Papadakis' gun and $414 of his money.

Another good Samaritan, whom police did not identify, chased after them, then returned to help Brock lift Papadakis off the floor. That witness was able to positively identify the men; Brock could not because he only saw the backs of their heads, he said.

Clearwater police say they found the teens in possession of Papadakis' property shortly after the robbery. Zachary Henderson, 16, and Juan Sanchez, 17, were arrested on felony charges of armed robbery and battery on a person 65 years of age or older. Sanchez faces an additional charge of being a juvenile in possession of a firearm, a misdemeanor.

Papadakis credits the men with saving his life. Of the mail carrier, he said: "He's a hero. If he wasn't there, I'd be dead."

But Brock, a 12-year veteran of the Postal Service, said he just happened to be at the right place at the right time. "I did what anyone would do," he said Wednesday.

The gun, a 22-caliber Beretta, and the money were returned by authorities.

The case was referred to the State Attorney's Office, which plans to charge the teenagers as adults, prosecutors said. Both teens were being held at the Pinellas Juvenile Detention Center Wednesday.

The store is owned by Papadakis' wife, 47-year-old Young-Hee Papadakis. She was running errands when the attack occurred. "Thank God for that, because they would have hurt her," Papadakis said.

Papadakis said he's increased security at the store and now keeps a loaded shotgun by his side, but he is still haunted by his memories of the midmorning assault.

"When I go to sleep at night, it's with me all the time, the same punch, the same kick," he said. "I cannot get that out of my mind. I have short-term memory loss, but I can never forget this."

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Mail carrier thwarts robbery of blind man in wheelchair in Clearwater 06/03/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 3, 2009 10:27pm]
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