Late Shifts at Convenience Stores Pose Potentially Fatal Security Risks

As clocks pass midnight, violent crimes terrorize some convenience retailers

Jul. 21--The Quik Mart where Christopher Cottle, 50, was gunned down during a beer robbery Saturday had been robbed at least nine times since January 2005, including twice this year.

That Quik Mart at 3499 S. Wilmot Road ranked third last year among Tucson convenience stores for most reported robberies with seven, according to police data. Details about those robberies were not immediately provided by Tucson police, who said Sgt. Marco Borboa, the individual who could approve the release of the reports involved or discuss their content, was on vacation.

Another Quik Mart in the 1200 block of North Alvernon Way that was hit 10 times in the same time period -- on average once every 36 days -- ranked No. 1 among the approximately 170 convenience-store robberies reported in 2005. A nearby 7-Eleven in the 1000 block of North Columbus was robbed nine times last year.

So far this year, there have been 91 convenience-store robberies, including two this year at the store where Cottle worked, according to Officer Dallas Wilson, a spokesman for the Tucson Police Department. The numbers don't include Saturday's incident, which is classified by police as a homicide.

Cottle died early Saturday, after three men entered the store. Each grabbed a pack of beer before walking out without paying.

In addition to the criminal investigation, Cottle's death has sparked an investigation by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which is looking at possible Quik Mart violations of workplace safety laws, said assistant director Mark Norton. He declined to provide more details of the agency's inquiry.

Cottle's death was the first killing of a Tucson convenience-store clerk since the early morning of May 9, 1992, when Allen Warren Walters, 31, died from a gunshot wound inflicted during the robbery of the North Side Circle K store at 875 W. Roger Road.

He was killed by three Marana teenagers, Dement Frazier Weaver, 15, Frederick Ramon Jr., 16, and William Lee Rodgers, 19. They were eventually convicted and sentenced to terms ranging from 25 years to life in prison.

In videotape shot Saturday by a Quik Mart security camera, Cottle, who was working alone, is seen following the men out of the store, said Sgt. Mark Robinson, a Tucson Police Department spokesman.

Cottle, who was shot several times, was found by a customer about 40 feet from the store entrance around 12:30 a.m. The customer called 911. The clerk was taken to University Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead a short time later, Robinson said.

It was every convenience-store clerk's worst nightmare.

Convenience stores like the Quik Mart where Cottle died are convenient for customers, and for late-night robbers, too.

Mike Iverson, a tall, muscular man of 38, doesn't hesitate to talk to some of the suspicious -- if not downright freaky -- people who walk into the 7-Eleven on the southeast corner of East Speedway and North Columbus Boulevard during the graveyard shift. There are a "lot of methheads" in the area and he wants potential robbers casing the store to know he's alert.

"They're looking for the clerk that's slipping, somebody who's not paying attention to what's going on in and around the store," Iverson said as he stood by the cash register shortly before midnight Wednesday. A police scanner crackled in the background. Iverson listens for any trouble going down in the neighborhood.

Still, he never knows whether the next late-night visitor will wave a greeting or a weapon.

About two months ago a man suddenly vaulted over the counter and stabbed a clerk, Iverson said. The robber grabbed the cash drawer. The wounded clerk recovered.

"He's back working days. He won't work nights anymore," Iverson added.

From the police data provided, it's not clear whether last year's nine robberies there were dangerous or just minor incidents.

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