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Pizza delivery is risky work

Robberies, assaults prompt workers to carry guns, consider a union

Three robbers ambushed one man at the back door of a West Side house, kicking him in the head and sending him to the hospital.
Another man was slammed into a wall on Laird Street and threatened up close with a large combat knife.

Still another stared down the barrel of a gun and watched his car being stolen, leaving him abandoned on Domedion Street on a frigid February evening.

These victims weren't looking for trouble.

They just wanted to deliver some hot pizzas.

All three men were on the job - which the federal government describes as one of the most dangerous professions in America: delivering pizzas.

Pizza delivery workers typically work for minimum wage and tips, peddling pizzas worth 10 or 15 bucks.

But these deliverymen say they might as well have targets painted on their backs.

"It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it," says Capone Curry, a deliveryman for Zip's Pizza on Grant Street.

A Tennessee organization is now pushing for unionizing pizza delivery drivers.

The Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers could welcome its first unionized pizza store in the country on Monday when Domino's Pizza drivers in Mansfield, Ohio, hold a union election.

Jeff Callahan, the president of the association, hopes the Ohio events set a precedent. Although the Mansfield group cites reimbursement rates, wages and benefits as reasons for unionizing, the APDD puts safety at the top of its list.

"Delivery drivers enjoy the fifth most dangerous occupation in the U.S.," the group says. "This in and of itself is the only reason that we need what we are doing."

The union said nine drivers were murdered last year across the country. Of 414 robberies it analyzed, criminals wielded a gun 63 percent of the time and money was successfully taken 77 percent of the time. A third of the delivery workers were injured during a robbery.

The risk associated with the job is the nature of the business, some say. Others, though, are fighting back. They're carrying weapons or fighting their attackers.

That's what happened April 20 in Niagara Falls, when a pizza deliveryman shot a teenager who tried to rob him with a fake handgun. The incident in a Pierce Avenue alley left 16-year-old Anthony Sheard dead of a gunshot to the head.

The 54-year-old deliveryman for Mr. Ventry's Pizza is in counseling to help him deal with the incident. The deliveryman, who has not been named by police for fear of retaliation, was licensed to carry a concealed gun and did so because he was robbed three years ago.

Crime of opportunity

Detectives say robbing delivery workers is a growing "crime of opportunity" on the streets.

"Every night when we come in, it seems there's one or two guys that get stuck up," said Detective Sgt. Thomas M. Vivian of the Buffalo Police Major Crimes Unit. "It seems like a really quick way for some of these guys to get money."

That's why Jeff Owens, 20, a deliveryman for Metro Pizza on Clinton Street, will soon finish his pistol permit class with plans to start carrying a gun on his pizza rounds.

"The owner that works here . . . he carries one," Owens said. "In case something happens, at least I can protect myself."

Owens has been robbed three times in two years, most recently April 30 on Kretner Street.

"I wasn't really scared for any one of (the three robberies)," Owens said. "It seems funny to say but the first two, they were really good about it, like "just hand over the money.' The people who do seem to be robbing me (now) seem to be more and more angry and violent."

Last year, what seemed like a routine delivery sent Curry to the hospital. He was ambushed by three men at a rear door of a lighted West Side address.

They grabbed Curry and one man tried to rifle through his pockets. When Curry pushed two of the men back, the third kicked him in the head. They beat him and stole money and a pizza before he escaped.

A Domino's Pizza employee in Amherst told police he was punched in the back of the head by five men during an April 12 delivery on Lisbon Avenue. Two pizzas and $55 cash was taken.

In another recent robbery, Vivian said, a woman making a pizza delivery on Victoria Street was pistol whipped even after she complied with the robbers.

Still, Curry says delivery people know and accept the risks involved.

"It's rough, but if it's going to happen, it's going to happen," Curry says. "I keep my faith in the man above."

Thieves are teen males

The profile of pizza delivery thieves are typically teenage males traveling in twos and wearing hooded sweat shirts. The average age of the robber was about 19. The pizza driver? Nearly 32.

Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark attributes the proliferation of pizza delivery robberies to the age of the offenders. Many are granted youthful offender status by the courts, Clark said, despite the fact most of the robberies are armed, violent felonies.

"Nothing works like a good stiff jail sentence," he said.

Pizza delivery robbery remains largely an "inner city" problem.

"Your chances of being robbed are minuscule, but it goes up in a high-crime area," said John Correll, a former Domino's Pizza shop owner and deliveryman who is now a chain vice president and employee trainer. "If we didn't put Domino's in high crime areas, we would get lawsuits. People in high crime areas like pizza, too, and occasionally a driver gets robbed."

So far in 2005, nearly 24 pizza delivery robberies were reported to Buffalo police. Besides Niagara Falls, delivery workers were also robbed in Lockport and the Town of Tonawanda.

Vigilance advised

Many pizza shop owners and managers say they advise delivery people to look for signs that "something isn't right." Those include:

Houses that don't have a porch light or interior lights on.

Houses appearing abandoned.

Groups of people that appear threatening.

Special requests to deliver inside the house or to a side or back door.

"You never go inside a home, and you keep yourself visible," said Mike Huber, owner of Avenue Pizza on Main Street.

Added Shirley Castle, a Zip's clerk: "If it looks suspicious, do not even bother with it. Bring the order back. And, if you do get approached and you do get robbed, don't argue with them. Give up the money."

The rash of robberies is also forcing those who take the pizza orders to help ensure drivers' safety.

Caller verification used

Many shops have Caller ID as a way to verify callers, Huber said. Others, like Zip's, keep lists of "problem addresses" where they will refuse delivery because of a previous incident, Castle said.

In the Niagara Falls case, owner Michael Ventry and his deliveryman say they took every precaution to avoid a robbery, including calling back the phone number on the order.

The deliveryman told The Buffalo News, however, when Sheard and his cousin, Aldeaz Lewis, 16, came out that night, he felt something was wrong.

The two threatened him with a black pellet gun that the deliveryman said looked like a real pistol. After a struggle, the deliveryman shot Sheard in the head. Lewis remains charged with robbery.

Niagara Falls police back the deliveryman's account, saying he did everything right and felt his life was in danger when he used his gun. A grand jury will make the final decision this month.


Premium Member
9,526 Posts
NYC and Buffalo have nothing on Schenectady - here, the beat pizza delivery people to death with baseball bats and then try and claim youthful offender status. And Dominos pizza won't allow you to protect yourself. Who needs pizza????????????????

180 Posts
Mikey said:
NYC and Buffalo have nothing on Schenectady - here, the beat pizza delivery people to death with baseball bats and then try and claim youthful offender status. And Dominos pizza won't allow you to protect yourself. Who needs pizza????????????????
Kind of makes you wonder when a company puts fear of liability ahead of the safety of it's employees.

Premium Member
6,604 Posts
I did the pizza gig for awhile some years ago , and after getting shot by some punk with a .25 i started to carry my .45 colt s&w and all the police around here knew it and never said a thing . not my first choice of jobs but it helped pay the bills :(

On a side note when i drove i alwas had someone with me and a pump 12 ga. in the car
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