Sunday, 13 July 2008

Pizza Delivery Business Take Extra Precautions After Driver Killing

Food-delivery businesses in some areas are taking precautions and rewriting policies to ensure the safety of their deliverers following the abduction and killing of a deliveryman in Fredericksburg.

Yong Hui Zhang, 24, was declared missing last week when he didn't return from making deliveries for his parents' restaurant, China Express.

His body was found in Sussex County days later. Officials said he died from a stab wound to the chest. Authorities think that Zhang was attacked at a vacant apartment after going to make a delivery there. Suspects Jermaine Montgomery, 34, and Marcey White, 36, are charged with abduction, carjacking, credit-card theft and conspiracy and prosecutors are considering how to charge the suspects in the slaying.

The Spotsylvania Sheriff's Office said it has documented five delivery robberies since July 1, 2007, all of which stemmed from deliveries called in to a fictitious address. Fredericksburg police say the recent incident is the only delivery robbery there in the past year. Richmond police say out of 293 reported robberies of individuals this year, about nine involved a food-delivery person.

Though attacks on food deliverers aren't widespread, businesses in Richmond and Fredericksburg aren't taking any chances. "The day we found out about what happened, my mom said we're not delivering past 9 p.m.," said 16-year-old Wo Chan, who runs errands and makes deliveries for family-owned Fortune Gourmet, a Chinese restaurant in downtown Fredericksburg. Others are limiting delivery areas, telling drivers not to carry more than $20 on deliveries and talking about having deliverers carry pepper spray for protection.

Domino's Pizza drivers must make a safety callback to any new customers or people placing a call by cell phone. They have to get an answer and a confirmation that it is a legitimate order before they can leave the building, said John Minick, who oversees safety for Domino's.

If a deliverer finds himself or herself in a situation where they are being asked to hand over their money, Domino's policy is no resistance. "It's a simple policy; they honor the demands of the robber," Minick said.

"Statistics show there is less of a chance of injury that way." Police and restaurant managers make many of the same recommendations on how to reduce the odds of being robbed. Sgt. John Garcia, who runs the detective squad at a south Richmond precinct, recommends that businesses make sure they get a phone number, a complete name and a correct address when taking orders, and refuse to deliver food to intersections or other outdoor areas.

"Typically, what we see is they will demand whatever the product is and whatever money they're carrying," Garcia said. Nine out of 10 times, he said, a robber brandishes a weapon or implies that there is one. If a driver arrives at a house that looks abandoned or run-down, Garcia said, they should obey their instincts and drive to a safe place and try calling the customer again.

A would-be robber probably won't answer the phone. Joy Garden has operated for 50 years on Broad Street in Richmond as a dine-in Chinese restaurant. Manager Mark Sin said drivers there deliver an average of seven or eight orders a night in midtown and downtown neighborhoods.

"We always recommend the driver observe before you get out of the car. If it doesn't feel right, don't deliver. Just take off. ... It can happen anywhere, in a safe place or dangerous place."

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