Cigarette bandits with crowbars terrorize Kroger employees

Employee who smuggled cell phone called police to SE Houston store

By Courtney Gilmore - Anchor/Reporter , Mary Cuervo

HOUSTON - Four men are in police custody after an overnight robbery at a southeast Houston grocery store.

Police say the men threatened employees with crowbars as they stole cigarettes. But they were quickly caught.

Police say the four suspects who got into the store caused a lot damage and almost got away. But police arrived just in time.

When Cindy Amolochitis heard her local grocery store off Polk and Cullen was broken into, she immediately thought of the employees who work overnight.

"I said, 'Oh my God I have some friends who work here,'" Amolochitis said.

At around 2:30 in the morning, police say the four men broke into the store, but they weren't after cash; they were after smokes. To their surprise there they weren't alone. Six to eight employees were also inside, left shocked and terrified.

"They are in there working and all of the sudden the front door gets busted in,"  said Lt. Larry Crowson with the Houston Police Department.  "The males threatened them with crow bars, then went to the area where cigarettes were stored and stole a bunch of cigarettes."

According to detectives, the thieves thought they covered their backs by snatching all of the employees' cell phones. But there was a woman hiding who a made a desperate call to 911 for help.

"One of the employees was in the back and she called police with a cell phone. Officers were in the area and arrived. They saw a vehicle leaving, the vehicle led them on a short chase for a couple of blocks," said Lt. Crowson.

Several police units were called in to set up a perimeter. Two of the cigarette thieves were captured quickly.  The other two were found with the help of a K-9 unit.

We asked a man in the back of the patrol car what happened, and he shock his head saying he had nothing to do with it. However, officers tell us otherwise and they have a bag full of evidence that they say will speak for itself in court.

Meanwhile, customers are sounding off.

"Good thing someone was in there to call 911," said customer Tery Verrett. "It's not worth it at all."

Fortunately the employees weren't hurt. We went inside and the glass case is broken and all of the cartons of cigarettes are gone because they are now evidence in this investigation.

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