Security issue limits delivery routes to Penn. town

Jan. 18--One snack food company is no longer sending drivers into Reading after six delivery truck drivers have been robbed in the last three weeks. Another -- Clover Hill Farms -- will no longer send drivers into the city alone.

"The safety of our employees is paramount," said Ralph D. Reider, director of sales for Clover Hill.

The robbers have been described as young males with guns. All have struck during the day.

Police think the crimes are related. No arrests have been made.

The latest robberies were Thursday, when two deliverymen were held up within about a half-hour.

About 11 a.m., armed robbers took more than $100 from a Herr's truck driver outside a market at 11th and Muhlenberg streets.

About 11:30 a.m., a Clover Hill Farms truck driver was robbed as he left a market at 12th and Oley streets. The robberies were about 10 blocks apart.

Lt. Stephen D. Powell, supervisor of the city police vice squad, which is leading the investigation, said the department is concentrating resources on the robberies.

"Our vice and VIPER units are working on it full time, and we have also pulled in people from patrol and criminal investigations," Powell said.

Police are working on the theory that the robberies are crimes of opportunity, not deliberate targeting of trucks or delivery routes, Powell said.

"We have a few leads and we have a few people in mind," Powell said.

Clover Hill driver Scott Machemer was one of the drivers robbed Thursday.

He said he was returning to his truck after a delivery to a bodega at 11th and Oley streets when he noticed four young males sitting on a stoop.

"One of the kids got up and walked away, and the other three rushed me," Machemer said. "One of them stuck a gun in my side and they kept saying, 'Give me the bag, give me the bag.' "

Machemer said he gave them some cash he had collected from a market owner and the robbers ran away.

He said he has been making deliveries in the city since 2001 and never had a problem until Thursday.

Clover Hill has been hardest hit. Its drivers were victims in three of the six robberies. The company delivers along nine routes in Reading, including to city schools.

"We're going to put additional manpower on the trucks until we get through this," said Reider, the stores director of sales.

He said the company is also putting a second employee on delivery trucks and will have supervisors patrolling where deliveries are made in the city.

"We have been meeting and working very closely with the police," he said.

Good's Potato Chips in Adamstown, whose driver was robbed of about $300 on Jan. 3, has stopped making deliveries in the city.

The company declined to comment Thursday.

One problem, Machemer said, is that many customers insist on paying cash.

Reider said Clover Hill hopes to have a new cashless system in place soon.

He said he realizes some market owners prefer to pay in cash but they will no longer be allowed to pay the drivers.

Some companies whose drivers have been robbed declined to talk about what, if any, changes have been made or are planned.

However, Michael S. Garner, owner of Beer Mart on Morgantown Road, said his drivers have worked in pairs for years.

"We don't handle cash, we always have at least two drivers in a truck, we don't go in after hours, like late when it's dark, and we don't have problems," Garner said. "We try to be secure, try to make quick deliveries."

The only problem Garner recalled was a few years ago when someone managed to filch some beer from a truck.

Copyright (c) 2008, Reading Eagle, Pa. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.