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January 17, 2007
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Stand-off with gunmen at Calif. Safeway

The Associated Press

PINOLE, Calif. - Four masked men stormed a suburban Safeway early Tuesday, shooting and pistol-whipping an employee and escaping after the early morning robbery attempt without getting to the store safe, said police and grocery store workers.

The store manager called police at 6:11 a.m. after seeing employees being forced to lie on the floor at the front of the store, said police Cmdr. Phil Pollard.

A male employee was beaten and shot in the leg while other workers escaped out a back door or barricaded themselves in smaller rooms in the store.

The wounded man, who ran out of the store, was treated by paramedics at the scene and taken to a local hospital, he said.

Police arrived at the store just off Interstate 80 within minutes of the call and maintained cell phone contact with employees hiding inside. Officers did not enter for two hours because of reports that a gunman remained in the building, Pollard said.

A heavily armed SWAT team raided the store at 8:15 a.m. and brought out the five remaining employees. They went in again just before 11 a.m. and did not find anyone inside.

About 10 employees were working at the time of the attack, but no customers were in the store.

Employee Dominic Cortez, 20, was smoking a cigarette outside the store when the four armed men approached him around 6 a.m. One pressed a gun to his back and ordered him to open the locked door of an office that held the store safe, where other employees already had taken cover.

Cortez didn't have a key to the office so the gunman turned his attention to employees running down aisles in search of an exit or shelter. The gunman ordered them to stop and yelled, ''I'm not joking, I'll shoot you guys,'' Cortez said.

Amid the commotion, co-workers let Cortez inside the office, where they hid as gunshots rang out.

When members of the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department SWAT team arrived to bring the workers out, they held them at gunpoint until determining they weren't robbers, Cortez said.

Two hours later, the SWAT team used a bullhorn to send orders into an open door, commanding anyone still inside to come out with hands up. About a dozen SWAT team members eventually entered and found the store empty.

Police continued to search for the suspects and determine whether they stole any money from the store, Pollard said.

 






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