Five months into his first job bagging groceries, Germal Blake has an Employee of the Year award and an unforgettable story.
He earned the gold star on his Kroger name tag last week during a routine night collecting grocery carts from the parking lot on Washington Road.
Two hours before the end of his shift, about 10:30 p.m., the 17-year-old was heading back into the store when he noticed an older couple walking out through the sliding doors.
A skinny man came up behind them and grabbed the woman's purse, but she didn't let go. Germal thought it was a joke until the man started dragging the woman with her purse.
When she hit her face on a metal post outside the store, Germal knew it was serious.
"I was just shocked this was happening in front of me," he said.
The robber dropped the purse and started running empty-handed toward Alexander Drive on the east side of the shopping center. Germal hesitated at first because Kroger employees aren't allowed to chase shoplifters and he didn't want to get into trouble.
"But I didn't want him to get away with that," Germal said.
He sprinted after the man and shouted at him to come back and turn himself in.
He was on the phone with Richmond County dispatchers all the while, giving authorities a description.
Germal had almost caught up with his target and was expecting a fight when the man started fiddling in his pockets as he ran. That gave Germal some pause, and the robber took the extra seconds to jump into a car waiting for him in a parking lot across the street.
The man got away that night, but Germal got the tag number. A week later, investigators arrested a man they accused of being responsible, James Randall Holley, 43, who is charged with strong-arm robbery.
Richmond County sheriff's Sgt. James Kelly said Germal's initiative made a major contribution in catching the suspect.
"We used the tag to track him down," Kelly said. "The bagger was a big help."
Germal went home that night and related the exciting chase to his mother.
She was proud but understandably concerned.
She said, "You can't be doing that," Germal said with a smile.