Law enforcement agencies band together in search for serial robbers

WEST VALLEY CITY — Police throughout the Salt Lake Valley are pleading for help in solving a string of armed robberies of restaurants.

Investigators believe 12, possibly 17, restaurants have been hit by the same robbers, who always use a gun. The fact these armed robberies keep happening every day or two has police very concerned.

In at least a dozen robberies, the MO is almost the same: the gunmen show up at closing time and demand money with until they get what they want.

“There is some potential for some serious violence,” West Valley City Police Sgt. Mike Powell said. “We don’t want that to occur. We want this string of armed robberies to stop.”

Thursday, police departments from West Valley, Salt Lake City, Murray, Taylorsville and Salt Lake County joined forces in pleading for help in capturing the men.

“If you know this individual, you are going to recognize him from (the) photo,” said Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Carl Merino. “The photo has been released in the past. We haven’t received any calls. We need somebody to call us and tell us who this guy might be.”

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Over the past two months, the robbers have hit restaurant after restaurant — most of them smaller fast-food chains. The robberies may have started as early as Oct. 7, 2011, at a Beans and Brews coffee shop at 2707 S. Highland. Police say the robbers likely hit the Chuck-A-Rama on 400 South in Salt Lake City the next day. They went on to rob several restaurants between Oct. 7, 2011, and Jan. 19, 2012. Restaurants targeted by the robbers include Pizza Hut, Apollo Burger, Taco Time, Arby’s, Little Caesars and El Pollo Royo. The robberies happened between 7:45 p.m. and 11:05 p.m.

The men often wear a bandana or a ski mask, and in some cases customers in the restaurants have come face to face with the armed robbers.

“There have been other customers present in some of the businesses at the time the robberies did occur,” Powell said. “There were no injuries reported, and we’d like to keep it that way.”

For now, police departments are making an effort to have a strong presence of officers around fast-food restaurants, especially at closing time.

“We are increasing patrols at these types of businesses,” Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal said, “hopefully to deter that person and get them caught, if they show up.”

Police hope the frightening images of innocent employees being robbed at gunpoint will motivate someone who has information to finally come forward.

“Robbery is a crime of desperation, and we need to get this guy stopped,” Merino said.

The police departments are teaming up together and are offering a $2,500 reward for information on the robberies. Anyone with information is asked to call 801-840-4000.

Sam Penrod:Email: spenrod@ksl.comTwitter: @KSLsampenrod