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Bad takeout: Pizza delivery gets dangerous

BY ANNE VANDERMEY

Published November 15, 2006

The life of a pizza delivery driver is fraught with uncertainty.

There's the possibility of not getting a tip, the drunk customers, the orders that turn out to be prank calls.

Then there are the customers who hit you over the head and take your money.

Two robberies occurred within hours of each other in Ann Arbor last Thursday, both with pizza vendors as victims. While police don't think the robberies are connected, they are investigating possible links to two other recent fleecings of pizza vendors in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.

Last week, a gunman forced employees and customers at Marco's Pizza on Plymouth Road into a cooler, demanded their money as well as their cell phones, and proceeded to raid the cash register, police said. About two hours later, men who had broken into a vacant house on Metroview Court placed an order to the Domino's on Main Street and robbed the delivery man when he came to the door. They pulled him into the apartment, hit him on the back of the head and stole all his money and the pizza.

The driver, John, who asked that his last name not be used, has been delivering pizzas for more than four years. He identifies himself as a professional delivery driver and said he has no plans to seek another job in the wake of the robbery. He said dangerous and strange situations often come with the territory.

"People answer the door naked, drunken, stealing cars," he said.

Once, when delivering a pizza to a dorm room, two men jumped into his car and took it for a ride around the block, he said.

To curb robberies, most pizza vendors with delivery services prohibit their drivers from carrying more than $20. It's a rule, though, that isn't strictly followed and sometimes isn't enforced.

John, who was carrying more than $20 at the time of the robbery, was strictly reprimanded and could have lost his job.

The Ann Arbor Police Department is currently investigating both robberies, but has not pinned down any suspects. Police are offering a $500 reward for information leading to an arrest.

"We're pursuing several promising leads," Detective Sgt. Richard Kinsey said. "But we still need the community's help on this one."

Kinsey said the robberies are part of an annual citywide shift in types of crime that comes with the cold weather.

But last week's incidents do not signal a epidemic for anyone but pizza vendors - robberies in Ann Arbor from Jan. 1 to Nov. 11 are down 28 percent compared with the same period last year.

Police are investigating a connection between last Thursday's robbery and one two weeks ago in the same area, when several men broke into an abandoned apartment and ordered a pizza. They then assaulted and robbed the delivery driver.

"The M.O. was almost identical," Lt. Mark Hoornstra said. "They hit them in the head, take the money, and then they fled."

Anyone with information can call the AAPD's anonymous tip line at 734-996-3119.