LEESBURG, Fla. -- Former Papa John's general manager Tony Ritter didn't like the idea of making deliveries to dangerous neighborhoods. But the franchisee of the pizza store franchise where he worked didn't want to redline any areas.
According to a report in the Orlando Sentinel, if they had, Ritter's friend and co-worker, driver John Horan, might still be alive.
"They were just greedy," said Horan's widow, Teresa, of the franchise owners at the time. "They didn't care about anything except the money they could make from their next delivery. I think that's despicable."
Horan is suing the former franchisee for more than $15,000 in damages for sending her husband into a "high-crime area" on a pizza delivery that ended with his slaying. (Though the current court documents don't specify the amount of actual damages sought, they likely will be much higher. In Florida, plaintiffs in superior court cases must claim they are seeking a minimum of $15,000 in damages, thus Horan's use of that number. A case in which a plaintiff seeks compensation less than $15,000 would be heard in small claims court.)
"The defendant knew, and a reasonable person would have known, that if delivery persons ... were sent into these areas, injury or death was substantially certain to occur," reads the lawsuit, which was mailed Wednesday from Ocala for filing at the Lake County Courthouse.
The former franchise owner could not be reached for comment.
John Horan talked to his wife, Teresa, just before midnight Dec. 18, 2001, telling her he had one more pizza delivery to make.
It would be his last.
When John Horan, 30, stepped out of his car to deliver a pizza to a Harlem Avenue address, three people grabbed him, bound him with duct tape, gagged him and threw him into the back of his car. They then drove him toward to a deserted side street lined with warehouses, and threw him into a roadside ditch.
When Horan loosened the tape and started to run, one of the men shot him in the back. He was found dead hours later. Quawn Franklin has confessed to the shooting and is jailed on murder charges.
"Our position is that Papa John's was on notice that this was a dangerous area," said Jerry Lockett a lawyer representing Horan.
Ritter, the former general manager at the pizza shop, wrote an 18-page letter to Horan's widow detailing how he tried to persuade his bosses to ban deliveries to dangerous areas -- places he and other workers referred to as "Cracktown."
To prove the neighborhood is dangerous, Horan's lawyers have pinpointed the location of the killing on a detailed map of Leesburg and plan to identify every crime reported within a two-mile radius in the past three years.
"I know we are going to be strongly opposed by people who say we are racially targeting the neighborhood, but that's not what we are doing," Lockett said. "We are going to let the facts speak for themselves."
T.H. Poole, president emeritus of the Tri-City branch of the NAACP in Lake County, said that rather than have businesses pull out of the largely black neighborhoods, law-enforcement officers should fight crime there more aggressively.
"If they've got officers there that can't get the job done, then get rid of all of them up to the chief, because they have admitted the criminals have got control of the town," he said.
Ritter and Horan see it differently. Ritter thinks the officers are doing "a fine job," but he wants to see community residents become more "intolerant of the violence" there.
Horan concurs, putting the blame primarily at the doorstep of the former Leesburg Papa John's franchise owners.
"I blame them more than I blame Quawn," she said, referring to the man who has confessed to fatally shooting her husband. "I feel like Quawn was an individual with a terrible upbringing. I have no idea what options he had to get help with his life. I think what he did was absolutely horrible, unimaginable. But he was motivated by something within him that was not taken care of. They [the franchise owners] were motivated by money."