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9 rounds spent, 4 suspects down: The heroics of Deputy Frank Pobjecky

How the off-duty Winnebago County (Illinois) Sheriff’s Deputy singlehandedly stopped a pizza parlor robbery

On October 1, 2011, off-duty Winnebago County (Illinois) Sheriff’s Deputy Frank Pobjecky stopped in at a Rockford pizza parlor — Marie’s Pizza — to pick up a pizza for his family. It was unusual for Frank to be unarmed, because as a rule he carried off duty.

But Marie’s was owned by his friend Vincenzo Tarara, and that night Frank intended to be in and out quickly with his pizza. 

While Frank exchanged pleasantries with Vincenzo at the counter, four thugs burst loudly into the pizza parlor intent on robbery and promising murder. 

One lawbreaker — Lamar Coates — brandished a revolver and in his own personal street vernacular sounded the old refrain, “Your money or your life” while pointing the gun at Deputy Pobjecky. 

He then stuck the gun to Vincenzo's head.

Submitting Is Not Natural for Some “Victims”
Coates went to trial on multiple charges including felony murder — one of the assailants, Michael Sago, Jr., died in the melee at Marie's Pizza that night — as well as attempted armed robbery. His attorney argued that what eventually happened would not have done so if Tarara and Pobjecky had just cooperated and put their money as well as their lives into the hands of these four “young men.”

Some potential victims hesitate to give up their hard-earned money. Some kick into a survival mode when someone promises to bring an end to their lives by shoving a gun into their face. Under these circumstances, there are many who do not innately submit and trust to providence, when everything is at stake. Would you?

Testimony revealed Tarara faced such a moment as he looked simultaneously into Coates’ murderous eyes as well as the cold blued-steel-gray muzzle of the revolver. 

As he did, the master pizza chef perceived inaction would lead to his death. Tarara grabbed the gun that had been shoved into his face and, instantaneously, there was no turning back. 

The life and death struggle with Coates and his three compatriots was on. 

Pobjecky witnessed his friend make a move and this Iraq War combat veteran and Winnebago County Sheriff’s Deputy did what any good partner would do. 

He backed his friend’s move and instantly the battle was joined. 

The pizza parlor became a battleground and for Pobjecky and Tarara, their struggle would end in either victory or death.

Frank Fills His Hand
Pobjecky knew that Tarara always legally carried a gun holstered on his belt. Tarara’s hands were tied up trying to gain control of Coates’ weapon so Pobjecky went for the weapon in Tarara’s holster.

Pobjecky testified, “I know that our only hope of survival was if I can gain access to his (Tarara’s) weapon and use it to protect us.”

As the struggle progressed, two friends of Coates moved in to help. As Pobjecky went for Tarara’s holstered weapon he found himself in a life or death struggle with another robber.

Pobjecky testified, “If I didn’t get this weapon, we had no more weapons or anything. We would have been done.”

Pobjecky won the skirmish and filled his hand with Tarara’s handgun. At that moment, Pobjecky reasonably perceived all four robbers to be a deadly threat as the battled swirled around the counter. 

Pobjecky — now in pure survival mode — opened fire and in seconds fired all nine rounds in the weapon and the battle was decided. Three suspects were down and the fourth, Michael Sago Jr. fled the restaurant, but succumbed from his wounds outside, where he died.

The Jury Decides
The jury sat for days listening to investigators, witnesses, Tarara, and Pobjecky himself tell the story of that night. They disregarded the pleadings of the defense attorney and sided with Tarara, Pobjecky and the truth.  

They found Coates guilty of Felony Murder, Attempted Armed Robbery, Conspiracy, and Mob Action.

While wearing that winning smile of his, Pobjecky will tell you, “I did what anyone would have done.” 

All heroes seem to say that. And while they do mean it, it is not really true.

Pobjecky could have done what many would have done. He could have stood by with his hands up and let Tarara’s struggle play out. 

Pobjecky would not do that, however, for this third-generation police officer had years ago chosen the path of the honorable warrior. On that night, when four hooligans entered the peaceful Midwest pizza parlor brandishing a gun and gave all present a choice, “Your money or your life,” he stood by his friend. 

Together, without speaking a word, the two courageously and emphatically let their actions communicate their answer, “We choose life!”
Pobjecky and Tarara, the verdict is in: You are heroes.

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