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ATM victim "didn't have a chance'

Published Oct. 6, 2005

For the last eight years, Charles "Doug" Cecil has worked as a musician at Busch Gardens. He and his fiancee, Sheri Schifter, a dancer at the park, plan to marry in July.

They were looking forward to a trip to New Orleans on Monday, where they would celebrate Schifter's 24th birthday.

It didn't happen.

Instead, Cecil was shot in the face the night before by three youths who robbed him as he tried to withdraw money from an automated teller machine. He was in critical condition late Monday at Tampa General Hospital.

Authorities think groups of teenagers may be responsible for a rash of more than 20 ATM robberies in Hillsborough County in the past two months. Until Sunday, the robbers displayed their guns but did not fire.

Cecil, 36, was confronted about 8:20 p.m. Sunday while using the ATM machine at the First Union Bank at Busch Boulevard and 52nd Street.

As he put in his card, three youths in baggy shorts and dark bandanas came up to him, said Tampa Police Sgt. Phil Ray.

Police have not released details of what happened next, but Schifter said the youths just shot Cecil in the mouth.

"They took him by surprise and it seemed like they wanted to maim someone," Schifter said. "He didn't have a chance to say anything in the matter at all."

Police spokesman Steve Cole said it is hard to tell what's safe and what isn't these days.

"Robbers are so brazen," Cole said. "When you're right on a main drag like that you'd think it would be safe."

Cecil suffered damage to his face and jaw, but is alert and can communicate through writing, Schifter said. He had been through two surgeries by Monday night to reconstruct his jaw and tongue and is expected to recover completely.

"He's strong-bodied and strong-willed," Schifter said. "He's told me a couple of times today that he pulled through this for me."

Police had made no arrests as of late Monday. They think several factors may have led to the robbers' choice of victims. A floodlight that illuminated the bank machine wasn't working and heavy brush and trees obscured the view from the road, said Police Maj. Ken Taylor.

Cities around the country are taking measures to provide safety to people who use ATM machines.

In the fall, the Los Angeles City Council voted to install ATM machines at several local police stations. Last month, Wells Fargo Bank in Oakland, Calif., added a red panic button that rings 911.

Because of the recent incidents, Tampa Police have been warning people to refrain from using ATMs after dark and to use safety measures at all times.

_ Times librarian Barbara Hijek and staff writer Chuck Murphy contributed to this report.

Safety tips

Police give these suggestions for people who use ATMs alone.

Use machines located in a well-lit area where there is a lot of activity and traffic, such as a 24-hour supermarket.

Finish your business quickly.

Check the area carefully.