Even with careful planning – including an elaborate disguise – see why it looks like this alleged stick-up artist bungled his caper. And, find out just how weird this crime really was – directly from the folks who got held up …
With all the vehicle and foot traffic around Berry’s Southeast Coin & Jewelry, it’s surprising that anyone would even think of a daylight robbery of the store.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In the twenty years that Brent George has owned Southeast Coin & Jewelry and the Tri-County Locksmith store at 8115 SE Powell Boulevard, he and co-worker Rick Ross say they’ve seen a lot of “really weird” things outside the windows of their store, just west of SE 82nd Avenue.
“We see interesting things happening on this corner all the time,” said George, “like every day!”
“There is no end to weird stuff that we see going on here,” added Ross. “But this was the first time anything that weird has happened in here.”
The event to which George and Ross refer began about half-past noon on March 28. “A guy came in, looked at the [coin] showcases, walks past them and asks about having a key made,” Ross recalled.
Rick Ross and Brent George of Southeast Coin & Jewelry say they see weird looking and acting people every day outside their store – but not inside their doors – so this holdup attempt caught them off guard.
But, when Ross reached for the key, he felt a burning sensation scalding his face and eyes. “It caught me off guard, I didn’t see it coming; he sprayed me in the face with pepper spray. He pulls a gun on Brent, and was yelling, demanding gold and cash.”
George said the gun looked real to him, “He was waving it around. I thought my life might be over. I gave him coins from the case.”
Ross was trying to wipe the pepper spray off his face while he got cash from the drawer. “He kept hollering to hand over the gold and cash until he left.”
It wasn’t a getaway car the suspect fled in – but on a bicycle, witnesses say – when he left this shop with the loot.
Getaway less than ‘clean’
Apparently many people noticed the suspected holdup man exiting the store with his plunder, and called 9-1-1; police swarmed toward the store.
“A gentleman pulled up outside the store in the van,” Ross told us, “saw what was going on through the window, and watched they guy go out the door. He got back in his van, called 9-1-1, and followed him.”
The Good Samaritan watched the alleged thief hoof it west through the shopping center parking lot, and around the building’s corner, where his trusty get-away vehicle – a bicycle – was stashed. The man followed as the suspect rode north on the side streets, keeping the 9-1-1 dispatcher updated, with turn-by-turn directions.
The information called in by the citizen helped officers focus their search, said PPB Public Information Officer Sgt. Peter Simpson.
“Officers combed the area of SE 84th Avenue and Stark Street,” Simpson told us. “They located the suspect, and after he attempted to elude officers on his bicycle, he was taken into custody. Later, when being treated by paramedics for minor injuries, he attempted to run away again, while handcuffed – but was quickly stopped by police.”
-3 Police accuse this man, 41-year-old John Val Rice, of robbing the coin store.
Meanwhile, medical personnel treated Ross for exposure to pepper spray, but nobody suffered any serious injuries.
By 1:00 p.m., police had in custody the suspect they identified as 41-year-old John Val Rice. “Rice is in custody on a U.S. Marshal’s federal probation or parole ‘hold’ at the Multnomah County Detention Center. Robbery charges are pending,” summarized Simpson.
Elaborate crime plan gone awry
This wasn’t a crime done as a caprice, the shop workers said. “There was no smell of alcohol, and he didn’t look high,” Ross pointed out. “He seemed relatively coherent, and he was spot-on with what he was going to do, he didn’t skip a beat.”
Thinking back on the event, Ross recalled the thug suspected of the robbery did look a little odd. “He had what looked like a fake scar – make up – stuck to his face. He was wearing a purple mullet-looking wig, and a yellow baseball cap.”
The helpful spotter saw the suspect taking the time to change his clothing at least once, in a park, and also to smoke a cigarette. Apparently he never noticed the van that stayed right with him the whole time.
“It looks like he planned everything carefully,” Ross noted, except how to steer his bicycle – we’re told he crashed it into a parked car – and picking a store with very high visibility, in an area where everybody would call police on him.”
© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News