Local News

March 13, 2014

Despite murder, convenience store workers feel safe

They work at night and in the early morning hours when it’s dark out — often alone. Some of their workplaces have dimly lit parking lots. And cash is frequently being exchanged at the register.

By the very nature of their jobs, being a convenience store worker could be dangerous.

Despite the killing of a convenience store clerk in Dalton Sunday night, several local convenience store workers said they don’t have a great fear for their safety on the job. Lisa St. Clair, who works at Neil’s in Dawnville, said she has never had anything happen to her at work that made her feel threatened.

However, she doesn’t let her guard down.

“You keep an eye on people when they come in the door,” St. Clair said.

Skyy Raven-Marie Mims, 21, whose last known residence is Detroit, Mich., is charged with murder and armed robbery in the killing of Dahyabhai Kalidas Chaudhari, 37, at the Hi-Tech Fuel gas station at 3385 Airport Road, where he worked. Information gleaned from witnesses and official accounts indicates Mims stabbed him to death from behind and left him in a pool of his own blood. She is being held in the Whitfield County jail without bond.

The convenience store workers said they are glad the murder suspect is in custody.

“I was out of town on vacation, so I only know what I read in the paper about what happened,” said Aakosh Patel, manager of the Midnite Oil in Varnell. “But I’ve never had any problems here or felt threatened. Varnell is a nice quiet town. But we don’t stay open very late.”

Retail sales jobs — which include convenience store workers but also many others employed in retail sales — have the third highest victimization rate, behind workers in the law enforcement and mental health fields, according to a survey by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 there were 27 total fatal injuries at convenience stores and 22 total fatal injuries at gas stations with convenience stores. The data was not broken down into types of fatal injuries.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has recommendations for “workplace violence prevention programs in late-night retail establishments.” The guidelines are just that — guidelines — and carry no legal weight, meaning businesses are not required to enact any of the recommendations. Those recommendations are extensive, from using door detectors to alert employees when some enters the store to installing height markers on exit doors so witnesses can provide more accurate descriptions of assailants.

Some convenience stores have added safety measures such as bullet-proof glass, panic buttons, surveillance cameras and a policy of having two employees in the store at all times. Calls to the offices of several corporate convenience store headquarters were not immediately returned Thursday.

One factor the local convenience store workers said gives them more confidence in their safety is a strong law enforcement presence.

“You see them driving by all the time, and they stop in pretty often” said Tulsidas Patel, owner of the Quick Stop in Dalton.

St. Clair said sheriff’s deputies often stop in to grab something to drink.

“Sometimes they get want they want and leave, but I something see them siting out there in their cars for a while,” she said.

Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office Maj. John Gibson said deputies often keep an eye on convenience stores. Some workers said they seem to see even more law enforcement at night. Dalton Police Department spokesman Bruce Frazier said that isn’t a coincidence.

“Our officers on patrol will stop by convenience stores and other businesses at night just to check on things,” Frazier said.

Frazier said the department doesn’t break out convenience stores from other types of businesses in crime statistics, so there are no firm numbers on the amount of crime that occurs there. But he adds that officers said they don’t seem to be particularly dangerous places.

Gibson said many people see convenience stores as a safe refuge if they have a problem.

“They generally have good lighting. They are often open long hours, some of them 24 hours,” Gibson said. “Some of them are well-situated in prominent places in the community, and there’s generally people there. So if something goes wrong and someone is looking for help, that’s often the place they go to. If you look at the number of calls we get to convenience stores, it might look like there are problems. But that can be misleading. The problems that caused those calls may not have actually happened at the store.”

Meanwhile, some convenience store workers said they don’t plan on making any major changes or taking any special precautions because of the murder of Chaudhari.

“I feel safe,” Tulsidas Patel said.

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