Five food delivery drivers have been threatened and robbed by a man wielding a wooden club in less than a month, according to Columbia police.
On Wednesday, two food delivery drivers were robbed of cash in separate incidents, the fourth and fifth such robberies since the middle of October, according to Columbia Police.
The robber, who police believe might be connected to the other incidents, threatened a 22-year-old Pizza Hut delivery driver shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday. He carried what police described as a “square piece of lumber” and demanded money from the driver near 1101 Madison St., which was later determined to be a vacant house. The driver dropped the food order and ran away, police said.
Less than two hours after the Pizza Hut driver was confronted, a 20-year-old driver for Italian Village restaurant was struck with a piece of wood and robbed of an undisclosed amount of cash in the 1500 block of Vandiver Drive, police said.
“There are some similarities between the five, and they could be connected,” said Police Capt. Marvin McCrary.
Police said the man places orders to restaurants using addresses of vacant houses. Columbia Police Capt. Zim Schwartze said that, in some cases, the man yanks “for rent” signs from the ground in front of vacant homes and waits for delivery drivers to arrive before leaping out from behind the houses.
The other robberies occurred in Columbia on Oct. 16, Nov. 2 and Tuesday. The driver robbed on Oct. 16 was hospitalized for stitches, Schwartze said, but other drivers have not suffered serious injuries.
The suspect is described as a black man in his 20s to early 30s, 5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet tall, weighing between 180 and 230 pounds. Police say he might have a “bushy” afro 3 inches or higher, police said.
Pizza Hut spokeswoman Julie Hildebrand said the company provides crime prevention tips and requires its drivers to complete safety training before making their first delivery.
“(Drivers) don’t have to take risks on Pizza Hut’s behalf,” she said. “They don’t have to deliver the pizza, as long as they’re safe.”
Don Cody estimates he has delivered more than 10,000 pizzas since he started driving for Pizza Hut two years ago. Although he sometimes carries a wad of cash on busy nights, the 22-year-old Columbia resident and trained kung fu fighter doesn’t consider himself a moving target.
“I’ve been waiting for somebody to try and mug me for years now,” Cody said. “You just never know when it could actually happen.”
Other delivery people feel the same way.
MU sophomore Chase Darnell, 19, said he has never had problems since he started delivering for Shakespeare’s Pizza in June.
“It’s definitely something to keep in the back of my mind,” said Darnell, who rarely carries more than $30 in his pocket.
Darnell said he is cautious when delivering pizzas at night to houses without lights on.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” he said.
McCrary said drivers who feel uneasy about delivering food to certain residences shouldn’t go.
“If they go to a house that looks dark or vacant, that’s not good,” McCrary said.
Police request anyone with information call CrimeStoppers at 875-8477.