AVON PARK - When Mohammed Ali, the owner of the Citgo station in Avon Park, heard about the robbery Tuesday night of another gas station/convenience store in Avon Park - the fourth in two months - he knew what the clerk experienced.
It was only two weeks earlier that two robbers burst into the Citgo and robbed him at gunpoint, he said.
One robber stayed near the door and the other pointed a gun at him, he said.
"I opened the register and gave it (the money) to him," he said.
Ali, like others working at such businesses in Avon Park, expressed concerns about the latest spate of armed robberies.
On Tuesday night, reportedly one robber robbed the I Maze station, 4 U.S. 27, on the east side of U.S. 27 and Main Street. The clerk reported that he was robbed at gunpoint around 9:30 p.m., Nell Hays, spokeswoman for the Highlands County Sheriff's Office said in a press release.
No one was injured and the robber escaped.
Anyone with information should contact Nathan Coogan, a detective, at (863) 402-7250 or they can report the information anonymously to the Heartland Crime Stoppers at (800) 226-TIPS or go to Crime Stoppers' web site at www.heartlandcrimestoppers.com.
When asked whether any of the four robberies are related, Hays would only say that the investigation is continuing.
The first robbery occurred Aug. 14 at the Shell Gas Station and Convenience Store, 998 U.S. 27 North, Avon Park. Authorities said a robber entered the store and shot the clerk, who is continuing to recover from her injuries.
The shooting occurred after the clerk handed over the money, reports said.
Angela Smith, who worked the shift before the woman was shot, said she doesn't worry too much about it, but added that when she works during the evening her husband often stays with her.
"He doesn't like me being up here after dark by myself," she said.
She added that regular customers also often check on her or other employees during the evening and night shifts.
More than a month later, on Sept. 21, a man robbed a clerk at the Sunoco convenience store, 999 U.S. 27, Avon Park, at knifepoint. The robber fled after getting cash, authorities.
The robbery of the Citgo at 901 U.S. 27 South occurred Oct. 9.
Ali said it was apparent to him the two robbers did not have a vehicle and they fled on foot.
He said that since the robbery occurred he has locked the door after 9 p.m. and is careful as to who he lets inside.
Ali said three years ago a lone robber entered and pointed a gun at him.
He said he grabbed the gun. "I tried to pull it; he tried to pull it," he added.
The robber got the gun back, but fled, he said. "He didn't get anything."
In addition to that, burglars broke a window at least five times until he put bars on it, he said.
Hays said steps businesses can take to help prevent robberies include locking the doors after a certain time and only accepting payment through a window, she said.
She also advised that businesses should not cover windows. Not doing that allows clerks to see customers before they come in, she said.
And if something bad happens, it's possible a passerby might see something and report it, she said.
Smith said she's not surprised about the robberies, considering the poor economy.
"They're going to do what they need to do," she said of people who can't find jobs. But that doesn't make it acceptable, she added.
"It's getting to where hard-working people cannot go to work and feel safe," she said.