PALMETTO -- When three masked men walked through the back door of King Buffet restaurant in Palmetto 10 minutes before closing Wednesday, owner Steven Lin immediately thought of his wife, Angela, and three daughters who were busy cleaning.
He was terrified for them, not so much himself, he said.
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“I told the men, ‘Take the money,’” Lin said Thursday.
He handed the robbers about $500 in cash from the front cash register and a purse belonging to one of Lin’s family members.
About 20 minutes later, with the help of Lin’s prompt 911 call and an unidentified witness nearby, law enforcement caught and arrested two of the suspects in the residential neighborhood behind Lincoln Park in Palmetto, according to a Palmetto Police Department report.
The two men arrested were Markel D. Love, 18, and Troy Hodo, 17, both from Bradenton, said Lt. Scott Tyler of the Palmetto Police Department.
Both have been charged with armed robbery.
Police say there were two other suspects in the robbery of King Buffet, 1429 Eighth Ave. W., Palmetto, who are still at large.
Love and Hodo are also suspects in a string of 11 other armed robberies in Manatee County since March 23, said Dave Bristow of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
“We don’t know for sure, but we are looking at it,” Bristow said.
Lin was standing near the front of the restaurant about 9:50 p.m., when he saw the suspects coming toward him.
“All they said was, ‘We have guns.’”
Lin said he didn’t hesitate in responding and leading the masked robbers to the cash, which may have prevented injury to himself and his family.
“I had my wife here and daughters and I was scared for them,” said Lin, who has owned the restaurant for five years. “They took the money and put it in a bag like a school backpack and went out the back door. It was over quick.”
Lin said he immediately ran to the phone and called 911, telling the operator he had been robbed.
“They said, ‘We are coming now,’” Lin said.
He ran outside and waited for patrol cars, which arrived in numbers a few minutes later, with Lin waving his arms frantically in the parking lot.
“I was waving to the first one then three, four, five come,” he said.
Extra patrol units were on duty just in case the robbers hit again, said Tyler, whose department worked with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office on the extra coverage.
A break in the case
No arrests had been made after the 11 previous armed robberies, so local law enforcement is feeling some relief.
“We are very pleased,” said Bristow, whose agency also responded to Thursday’s incident as it unfolded. “We have two suspects in jail, but we still have two out there, so we have more work to do.”
The sheriff’s office interviewed both arrested suspects but didn’t get cooperation, Bristow said.
“We tried to talk to him but no luck,” Bristow said of Love. “The juvenile wouldn’t talk to us, either.”
The capture of the suspects had some drama to it.
After the robbery at King Buffet, the suspects fled north from the restaurant, on foot, apparently, to hook up with a getaway vehicle, according to police.
Minutes later, responding Palmetto police officers spoke to a witness whose business is a few doors down from the King Buffet, Tyler said.
“He was willing to help us, which we are grateful for,” he said.
“He said, ‘Yeah, I saw a silver Nissan leaving the area.’“
Officers broadcast a description of the vehicle and a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputy spotted a car that matched the description.
When the deputy tried to stop the Nissan, the driver sped off, according to the press release.
“It was heading into the housing development behind Lincoln Park,” Tyler said.
Sheriff’s deputies and Palmetto police officers chased the vehicle until it finally stopped in the 600 block of 14th Avenue East, in the Sylvan Oaks area of Palmetto.
During the pursuit, several items, including a ski mask, gloves, and a shotgun were tossed from the vehicle, police said.
These items were recovered by law enforcement. Items taken during the robbery were also found in the vehicle, according to Palmetto police.
“We captured two in the car, but two bailed out,” Bristow said.
The sheriff’s office set up a perimeter and scoured the area for the two suspects but came up empty, Bristow said.
“We had an all-out search going on,” he said.
Love was being held without bond at the Manatee County jail on charges of armed robbery, aggravated assault, fleeing to elude at a high speed and driving without a valid license.
Anyone with information about this crime or any of the other recent armed robberies in Manatee County can call Detective Chad Oyler at the Palmetto Police Department (941) 723-4587, ext. 306, or Manatee County Crime Stoppers at (866) 634-8477. Callers may remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward.
The Gold Star Club of Manatee County also is offering a $2,500 reward for information about the robberies.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.