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Shopper reports finding needle in an orange

When Jerrold Walker bought several oranges last weekend to make a favorite dish for his family, he never guessed that he was inches from becoming a crime victim.

While preparing a chicken recipe that called for oranges Tuesday afternoon at his home on Pitcairn Street near High Point, the silver twinkle of a sewing needle embedded in the fruit caught his eye.

Walker, 44, said the orange was one of six or eight he bought at the Winn-Dixie grocery store at State Road 50 and Mariner Boulevard on Friday or Saturday.

Sgt. Frank Bierwiler said the Hernando County Sheriff's Office does not have any leads on how the needle got into the orange.

"We don't have any other complaints similar to it," he said. "All we have is the needle that was found in the orange."

Marc Sutherland, marketing director for Winn-Dixie, said the store followed standard procedure and pulled the fruit from the shelves and hand-inspected it. No evidence of further tampering was found, Sutherland said.

One needle was enough of a concern for Walker.

He wondered what would have happened if his 18-year-old son, Donald, or his 15-year-old son, Eric, had taken the orange with them for lunch _ or his granddaughter, Elizabeth Brunkhart, who will turn 2 next month, had grabbed it.

"This is probably an isolated incident, but it's best that people be aware. It's best to be careful," Walker said. "I figure a kid with a strange sense of humor did this."

At first, Walker pulled the needle out and dismissed the incident. It wasn't long before he re-evaluated the situation.

"Then I thought what if someone else might have gotten it. It could be a little more widespread. Maybe some punk put 40 to 50 needles in (the other oranges at the store)," he said.

That was when he contacted the sheriff's office.

Gregory Warren, assistant manager at Winn-Dixie, was shown the needle.

According to police reports, Warren informed his supervisor and awaited instructions on the removal of the other oranges.

He also assured the officer that he would do everything possible to prevent a similar incident.

Sutherland said the store probably will not consider switching orange distributors, because apparently only one orange was affected.

"We want to reassure our customers that we stand behind our products. If they have any questions, please bring them to our attention. We guarantee everything we sell," Sutherland said.

Walker said he was reimbursed $1.50 for the fruit.

Walker, who has patronized the store since 1983, doesn't have plans to switch. He cited the good service of Winn-Dixie and said he doesn't blame the store for the incident.

He was just unlucky, he thinks.

"I never thought this would happen to me," Walker said. "It happens to somebody else, but we were the other people."

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