The surveillance images show a man in what looks like a heavy flannel, long-sleeve, pullover hoodie, gloves and beanie cap, with a scarf wrapped over the lower half of his face.
In the dead of winter, the look might not have raised an eyebrow.
The thing is, the images were captured the afternoon of Aug. 2 in Modesto, a day that reached 103 degrees. By a surveillance camera inside the Bottle-n-Cork liquor store at Tully Road and Bowen Avenue. After the man waited in line several minutes before pulling out a handgun and demanding money from the cash register.
And the place robbed is in a fairly busy shopping center that includes an Arco gas station right in front of the liquor store and dd’s Discounts next door.
Police are more than a little surprised that no one – before the robbery, at least – thought the man sticking out like a sore thumb was worth calling 911 over.
“If you see something that stands out like a man covering his face, wearing gloves and a long-sleeve shirt, walking into a business, that should be a flag to people, it’s something not normally seen in 100-degree weather,” said Modesto Police Department spokeswoman Heather Graves. “Of those people outside, someone should have called, or those inside, because there were several around him as he waited in line.”
Yes, there are young people who – perhaps forgoing comfort for style – wear hoodies or caps in the heat of summer. And there are homeless who overdress perhaps for fear of losing outerwear or to avoid carrying it.
But Graves said she believes most people can tell the difference between a disheveled person wearing all he may have in the world as opposed to “this guy, who other than being covered up, his clothes look clean” and relatively new.
“Do not think you’re overreacting” if you see someone dressed as this man was and decide to call 911, she said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” If police discover it’s just a misunderstanding, they and the subject will go their own ways, Graves said.
But this case “is what it is. It’s a clear example of people not being aware of what is happening around them, and it could have turned deadly, bystanders could have become victims.”
The man entered the Bottle-n-Cork about 4:30 p.m. that day. After several minutes in line, he got to the counter, pulled a handgun from his waistband, pointed it at the cash register and demanded money, Graves said.
The victim refused to open the register, and the suspect can be seen on surveillance footage walking behind the counter for a moment, then walking back around, she said. A bottle of water is the only thing he got away with. “Still, it’s a robbery – he didn’t pay for it,” Graves said.
The store employee showed courage in refusing to open the register, she said. “But is that what I would recommend? No. ... This could have gone another way, he easily could have fired off a couple of shots.”
The suspect is described as Latino or non-Latino white, age 25 to 30, 5-foot-10, with a thin build.
Anyone with information on the robbery is encouraged to call Crime Stoppers at 209-521-4636. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward. Tipsters may also text Crime Stoppers at 274637 by typing “TIP704.”
For a Bee article and video on Modesto Police Department volunteers receiving training on how to be effective witnesses, go to bit.ly/2wMtfLp.
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327