By Mark Stanovich
In my mid-twenties (I’m fast approaching my mid-forties today) I ran a pizza shop in northwest Orlando. A place called Pine Hills, but locally known as Crime Hills. Within the first six months I was robbed twice. I was working for less than $7.00 an hour to show I was a hard-charger and that I was worthy of owning my own store one day. I couldn’t afford a firearm for protection on my take home pay. I was a Navy veteran, my experience with handguns was shooting a 1911 into the water off the fan tail of my ship out in the middle of the ocean. I never missed. No one ever missed the water . . .
The owners of the store lived 80 miles away and they did in fact loan me a handgun, a Sig P230 (.380 acp), but I was terrified to lose it as it was more than a month’s pay for me. It was “safe and sound” in my apartment under my mattress during the first robbery, and in a holster at the one o’clock position on me during the 2nd robbery. With a gun in my face, it might as well have been in lunar orbit.
On August 9, 1994 around 9:30pm I was alone in the shop, my delivery driver was out on the road, the SIG P230 was on me. I was in the office when I heard the chime of the front door open. There was a one-way mirror upon which I could observe the kitchen and counter where people placed their orders, but from that vantage point a wall obstructed the front door. I was smoking a cigarette and wanted another drag before heading out to take the order of the customer who had yet to appear at the counter. Nice of him though, he was giving me time for an extra drag. Upon the completion of which he finally showed himself at the counter.
By the time I had realized he had panty hose over his head he was jumping over the counter, at which point I noticed something silver and metallic in his hand. He had not noticed the glass I was looking through. I remember noting at the time — and somewhat comically given the circumstances — that the heart-pounding slow motion effect of extreme fear like the movies portrayed was surprisingly accurate.
Unlike my two previous encounters, I had an opportunity to respond. Needless to say, I was also getting pretty f-ing tired of said encounters. The office opened out to the back prep area of the store with an adjoining archway to the kitchen. I came up to the archway, saw a figure in front of the cash register, the SIG was in my hands and I leveled it at the center of the figure. I fired once. Deafness. Wind tunnel. Ringing. Where did the trigger go? Looking down, trigger was in single action, my finger was in the space where double-action trigger would be. Looking up. Where did he go?! Gone. Why am I still standing in the open archway?!
I ran back to the office and looked out the window in time to see the robber jump back over the counter towards the front doors. I called 911. The first deputy on the scene was a K9. A baseball cap was left out front on the sidewalk. The K9 took one sniff and nearly tore his partners arm off in pursuit. About 150 yds away the dog lost the scent in a parking lot across the street where the getaway car must’ve been parked.
Some time after finishing my statement a call came in that a man fitting the description I’d given police was admitted into a nearby hospital with a gunshot wound to the chest. I followed a deputy there to ID him.
First: I was observant throughout the day. I noticed the individual I would later be shooting on two separate occasions. Once just walking with some younger kids through the parking lot, and another walking down the sidewalk in front of my store. He even opened the door as he walked by. When adding all of this up I was not overly concerned, but for some reason I locked the inner side-door next to the counter when my driver left to make a delivery. This is what kept him from appearing at the counter so soon upon entering the store. H had obviously been casing things.
Second: I needed a significant increase in caliber. He ran (I will take it on faith he did not stroll to the getaway car) 150 yds. with a gunshot wound to the chest. The little .380 (Hydra Shok) managed to penetrate no further than his ribs causing lots of discomfort to his lungs later that night, prompting the doctors to operate to remove it. What if he were in the mood to fight? He surely expended enough energy running away that he could have done so. What if he were on drugs and not felt the shot?
After that, I suddenly found the ability to quickly save enough money to buy a handgun of my own, this one in .45 ACP. A S&W 4516-2 which I still own and will never sell.
Five years would pass without any more encounters. A few of my drivers got robbed in that time, one being car-jacked (he left his CCW at the store and his car turned up the next day). Meanwhile I allowed my range time to decrease thinking the bushwhackers were going after the stagecoaches while leaving the home-fort alone.
Fact was I was no different than most of the untrained when going to the range. It was like a football analogy: 100 rounds and a cloud of smoke and I’d emerge with 30 or 40 minutes left on my hour range rental. However, I digress somewhat, I was stuck with the means of training myself. I could only afford to go to a range once or twice a month where I was beholden to the rules that most ranges have. No drawing. Guns pointed down range at all times, etc.
February 11th 1999 (Note: I have one Orlando Sentinel laminated clipping for this encounter)
The wakeup call.
I was up in the front of the store near the infamous counter talking to an employee when an 18-year-old kid jumped the counter and grabbed both of us by the shirt and pulled us away from the storefront windows. He told me to open the register. I stood, and turned my back to him so that he would not see me make my draw. It was a busy night, and things were just slowing down, which I am sure the robber was watching and waiting for.
He still held my employee. I did not see a weapon. I did not WANT to see a weapon. She was blocked out by the counter that enveloped our pizza line when I spun around. Had he pulled a knife after letting me go so he could use her as a hostage. I decided to fire as soon as I got my gun on him. I rushed getting a grip, rushed the draw, rushed the aim, but I hit him with the first and only shot I fired. He was less than 10 feet away.
But I didn’t know I’d hit him. I was focused on my gun, and my atrocious grip. I saw the webbing between my thumb and forefinger one half inch below the beavertail resulting in a harder than usual trigger pull. I might have had a 5-year hiatus between encounters but one re-occurring nightmare of mine through those interim years is the one where during an encounter, the bullet leaves the gun only with the force I apply to the trigger. Well, it sure felt as though that bullet had plopped straight to the floor like in an old cartoon.
Things would go from worse to worser when the would-be robber lunged at me under my still extended arms. Idiot I am, I was still appalled with my grip. So there I am thinking I have a fight on my hands. One hand is trying to break his grip, the other is trying to keep my gun out of his reach. But he is not trying to go for my gun. He is not trying to fight me at all.
My hearing began to come back. He was screaming, “Please don’t!” He had me in a bear hug around the waist. I couldn’t break it with one arm. Finally I felt something begin to give, it was both of us, falling to the floor hard, but it sufficed to break his death grip on me.
I got up on one knee, pointed my gun at him, and told to GTFO. He did, and then drove himself to the hospital where he would survive. I stood, my breath coming back to me, the entire left side of my cargo shorts were covered in his blood.
Wait! I have a .45 ACP and I would find out later that I had hit him in the neck. The bullet totally missed his throat, windpipe, carotid, jugular, and larynx judging from his screams. Even though I went up in caliber since the previous episode, due to the aforementioned storefront windows, I was very concerned about projecting lethality beyond the glass, so I loaded up with MagSafe Swat loads and they simply did not perform as the manufacturer claims they’re supposed to.
I was left with many things to ponder. How can I effectively train myself for these encounters? How should I equip myself? The latter was a multifaceted question since my S&W was now evidence and in police custody. Luckily I knew someone who knew someone who wanted to sell almost the same pistol. A S&W 457 was the aluminum frame version of the 4516. As for loading it, I chose MagSafes again, but this time I went with their Defender frangible rounds. I will admit that in this timeframe the FBI standards were a lot less understood and frankly many didn’t seem to take their research with too much seriousness. The lunacy of arming agents across the board with 10mm’s was still fresh in our minds.
So there I was, back pretty much where I started, with the benefit of two not so ideal experiences upon which to draw from. Yes, surviving them both was truly ideal. However, good enough being the enemy of perfection, I embarked on a complete revamping of everything I did.
I still only shot at an indoor range in a single lane with the applicable range rules that went with it. Thinking hard on the these imposed limitations, I did what I could to improve my performance. The “100 rounds and a cloud of smoke” training I did in the past was obviously not cutting it. Peppering a silhouette with 50 rounds told me nothing about my status with a handgun.
After 20 rounds I lost the ability to see where the hell my shots were appearing on the targets. Secondly I never saw bullet holes appear on my two adversaries, so why was I even looking for them on the paper? The 800-pound gorilla, though, was my perceived inability to make follow-up shots. Fact was I did not feel competent doing so. Every wanna-be and their Green Beret uncle knows about double taps, but to do it when it mattered was a real proposition for me. I took it very seriously that what my weapon fired was totally on me as to where it ended up. I potentially had customers beyond every bad guy I encountered to that point, and beyond.
I made range visits twice a week for the first few months following the second incident. I slowed myself down. I shot bullseye targets to better gauge my bullet placement and to see if I was thumbing or anticipating recoil. I only shot 50 rounds a session in 5-shot groups. I was slow but methodical. I learned trigger control, and trigger reset. I knew the axiom of 100’s of repetitions to remember, but 1000’s to be instinctive. I disciplined myself to not look at the holes I made in the target until I had shot my 5-round strings. Groups got tighter. I kept range distances to roughly 10 yards. I thought of endless scenarios while at work. Somehow I knew it was going to happen again.
I got my S&W 4516 back 14 months after the second incident, however I wouldn’t have it for long.
July 12, 2000 was a Wednesday and a fairly busy one. It was approaching 8:30 when things began to slow down. I had decided to call a friend about plans we had made for that weekend. I was next to the counter using the bank of phones next to it to make my call.
A few kids came up to the front on their bicycles, and I waved an employee to the counter to take their order. The phone to my friend’s shop was ringing. He answered, we said “hey” to each other, then a loud noise coming from the lobby of my store caught my attention.
I turned toward it. A young man of over 6 feet in height was jumping over the counter and coming towards me. A gun was in his right hand and pointed at me. He put his left hand to my throat. He yelled something I couldn’t make out.
He had me bent over backwards, I was looking down at my waistline and saw the clip of the IWB holster through the bleach holes of my shirt. I was scared he’d see it too, terrified he’d use it against me. He brought his gun down hard striking me on the head. I dropped the phone. My friend, hearing the commotion on his end and knowing what I had been through in the past and where I worked, tried to hang up and call 911. In those days for some reason you couldn’t hang up on an inbound call.
After receiving the blow to the head. I sprung up to bad guy #1’s face. To this day I do not know what prompted his response, but he turned and ran to the back prep area to subdue an employee there. I was totally left alone. A second robber, bad guy #2, was 6 feet to my left emptying the cash from the register and completely oblivious to me. What a gift. I now had two bad guys to contend with. Not so good odds. Whatever I did, the first thing I had to do was even them with absolutely no margin for error.
Bad guy #2 was still grabbing the cash and was the best candidate. I lowered my hands slowly, bringing them to the bottom of my t-shirt and with the same slow but deliberate speed, I pulled the shirt up with my left hand, made a sure grip on my S&W with my right, cleared the holster, did a left face, took a single step towards bad guy #2 who was faced now to my left, leveled the gun to the side of his head and pulled the trigger. He dropped to his right.
I took a position around the pizza counter, putting it between me and the archway that bad guy #1 should be returning through after hearing my gunshot. He did. I met him with fire. He fell to the floor. I saw an employee get out of the way of the fallen body. She looked at me wide-eyed, I gestured for her to escape through the front. She did.
I made my way to the back office seeing the other employee that bad guy #1 had gone after and I gestured for her to leave as well. I picked up the cordless phone in the office and made my way back to the archway to keep watch over the two bad guys on the floor. Puddles of blood were growing from under their bodies. As I pushed the digits, the bloody finger prints I left was the first indication to me that I was bleeding from the earlier head wound.
Bad guy #1 survived and is a quadriplegic from the wounds he sustained. He was charged with the murder of his accomplice, bad guy #2, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
That was the last night I worked in the pizza business. I was done with it. I could not go back with a bandage over half my head as it would be obvious who I was. Being a target for reprisals? No thanks.
I got my S&W 4516-2 back a little over three years later, at which point the police had it in their possession longer than I had when adding the previous 14 month stint. I still have it, but no longer carry it.