Fla. clerk fired after chasing bandit

Company said he deserted the store

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Anger replaced Keith Ireland’s fear as the Jacksonville store clerk watched a knife-wielding robber rip the cash register from the counter of his Southside Hess store in late October.

Ireland, who’d run outside after fighting off the robber, returned and threw a 2-liter bottle of Coke at the man as he headed out the door. Ireland went into the parking lot, got a partial license number of the turquoise getaway truck and called 911.

Police quickly spotted the truck and caught the suspect, a felon, after a predawn chase that ended in Riverside. The register and its $274.82 were recovered after being tossed from the truck.

Ireland said he felt he did the right thing, and a prosecutor called him a hero. Hess didn’t see it that way.

Ireland, 56, said he was suspended the day of the attack and got fired from his $7.50-an-hour job four days later. Jobless and down to his last few bucks Thursday,  Ireland said he’s still not sure why he lost his job of 2½ years.

A document Ireland received after applying for unemployment pay said that he was fired for “leaving the work area without permission.” Ireland believes he was punished for pursuing the robber and also for allowing someone in the store before dawn. He said he was unaware either action was against company policy but would have accepted counseling if Hess felt he did something wrong.

“I thought it was rotten,” Ireland said of being fired.

Hess spokeswoman Lorrie Hecker  said the company does not elaborate on personnel matters. She said Ireland failed to follow several company safety rules, but she wouldn’t elaborate.

“Hess takes the safety and security of our employees very seriously,” Hecker said.

Assistant State Attorney Rich Mantei said Ireland’s actions were critical to solving the case.

“Someone ought to give him a medal rather than take anything away from him,” Mantei said.

The robber struck about 4 a.m. at the Hess station at Emerson Street and Philips Highway. Ireland said he let the man in and out of the store twice, then saw him pull out a knife when he let him in again.

The man was only a few feet from Ireland when he slammed the door on his booth. The man then went toward the open counter and Ireland ran outside. He said he looked back into the store, saw the man ripping out the cash register and returned.

“I was mad,” Ireland said.

He said he tossed Coke at the man’s back, then followed him outside and got the truck’s license plate as it drove off. The register was tossed out the window during the police chase, which went across the St. Johns River and ended when the truck crashed into a fence near Memorial Park.

The driver was caught a short time later by a police dog. Jamie Butterman, a 28-year-old convicted drug offender and burglar, remains in jail without bail after being charged with armed robbery, felony fleeing and criminal mischief.

Ireland said one supervisor thanked him for his efforts.

“It never occurred to me I would get fired,” Ireland said.

Ireland said he enjoyed his overnight job and was praised in at least two evaluations, including one in June in which he was thanked for “always looking out for the best interest” of Hess.

Ireland said he’s been unable to find another job and isn’t sure how he’ll survive living in his rented room with no other source of income. At this point, he said he’d even take a job at Hess if it reconsidered for some reason. He doesn’t believe that’s likely, however, and admits he thinks very little of his former employer.

“They’re an evil company,” he said.

jim.schoettler@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4385

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mable8 12/03/10 - 11:05 am
Usually, in situations such

Usually, in situations such as this, it's because the owner knows the thief and his/her family; they don't want any publicity. Ireland is right, the company is evil.

speedy6492 12/03/10 - 11:11 am
It seems to me that the

It seems to me that the clerck tried to do what was right @ the moment. He may had went about it the wrong way, but the crook got arrested and no one was hurt. Give the man his job back!

Aroundtown 12/03/10 - 11:41 am
Nah, He doesn't need THAT Job

Nah, He doesn't need THAT Job back...a Security Company needs to hire him for an overnight position...Better pay, Good publicity...and He can feel good about his heroic effort...
It's not like the guy had a gun...he had a knife, and the clerk got his license.
"Hess" is so stupid to throw away this PR Moment...makes them look like total "Scrooges"...

museofsatie 12/03/10 - 12:50 pm
It's just messed up that the

It's just messed up that the company fired him for this. He was directly responsible for the register AND the money inside it being recovered. It's just ridiculous that companies could/would fire someone for that. However, I've worked for a couple of different national chain retail stores over the years, and each of those stores beat it into the employees' heads that they were never to pursue a shoplifter/robber nor to "fight back" if attacked. It makes me wonder whether Hess is one of many stores who promote that, and it also makes me wonder if those other stores would do the same thing if one of their employees did the same thing that this Hess employee did.

I'm not saying it's always the best thing to try to fight back, but it's just weird to me for a company to punish its employees if they do what this man did.

Taylor B
Taylor B 12/03/10 - 12:44 pm
I worked for a store as a

I worked for a store as a manager, and after several other stores were robbed, we were told not to fight back. That's the same day I put my two weeks notice in.

jones255 12/03/10 - 12:53 pm
I'll never buy another drop

I'll never buy another drop of Hess gas -- I'll pay more across the street. Thankfully, we don't have anymore Hess stations around here, at least that I know of. And I will tell all my friends in Jacksonville about this.

dani 12/03/10 - 02:03 pm
There are many gas stations

There are many gas stations that serve you at a small window but won't unlock the door during posted hours. If the guy broke the rules then Hess didn't have much choice.

IsAmericaFree 12/03/10 - 05:56 pm
I agree it was a heroic thing

I agree it was a heroic thing to do but if the company policy is to not leave the store then he broke it. What if he had gotten injured or worse? You think Hess would be responsible for medical payments? People need to start taking responsibility for their own actions. We might find it mean-spirited that his employer fired him for his heroism, but the bottom line is he broke company policy.

tuffenuf4u 12/03/10 - 08:05 pm
Letting the man in when he

Letting the man in when he was not supposed to was against company policy. He did nothing heroic. In fact, his actions were just plain stupid. If I worked at a store and I was not supposed to let anyone in at 4:30 in the morning, no one would get in by my actions. He was justy lucky the man did not have a gun. He endangered himself by letting the man in, against company policy. That is what the company is looking at. I certainly would not hire him.

humbleopinion 12/03/10 - 11:20 pm
I too will boycott Hess /

I too will boycott Hess / Wilco stations until they issue an apology to the man and offer him his job back. I travel throughout the Carolinas and normally like their stations / convenience centers. I'll go back to buying gas at BP again, and I usually fill up three or four times per week.

bclicious 12/03/10 - 11:28 pm
This is where discretion

This is where discretion meets a moral wrong versus a legal right. In life, we have to balance the 2. As much as it may have been that the company was legally right to do what they did, it is morally wrong and bad publicity. Remember, when you fire someone from their job, you are essentially giving up on that employee. So, was the employee beyond redemption? Did his company take any steps to remediate him? NO!

What they did was they looked at a written policy that this minimum wage employee may have or may have not understood and they said "Hey, let's make an example out of this guy!" All of this could not have come at a worse time too! We are at the beginning of Christmas and in the middle of a terrible recession. As we used to say in the Army, this guy went from hero to zero very quickly.

Does he really deserve that?

In closing, this company proved that no good deed goes unpunished!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

RAWR 12/03/10 - 11:34 pm
Sometimes doing the right

Sometimes doing the right thing isnt doing the right thing.

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