When Leon Poe, a delivery driver with Pizza Hut in Boerne, Texas, failed to return from a late-night delivery July 20, his co-workers didn't seem too concerned.
That Friday night, Poe left the store about 10:30 p.m. with three pizzas, several 2-liter drinks and breadsticks. He had about $30 in his pocket.
"When he didn't (come back), I don't think they thought anything happened," Kendall County, Texas, Sheriff's Department Lt. Luis Martinez told local TV station KSAT. "He just didn't come back."
Two days later, Poe's body was found in the back seat of the car he used to deliver pizzas. He had been stabbed several times, shoved into the back seat of his car and covered with a trash bag.
The Kendall County Sheriff's Office the following week arrested Karl Anthony Hodson, 20, and Jenilee Ann Sheppard, 23, in connection with the murder.
The couple had apparently called the restaurant from a party they were attending. When told that the address was out of the restaurant's delivery area, the couple made arrangements to meet Poe halfway. When Poe resisted the attempt to rob him, Hodson allegedly stabbed him in the chest, according to police reports.
Rules difficult to enforce
In this particular case, both the restaurant and the driver did nearly everything wrong, said Jim Pohle, national president of the American Union of Pizza Delivery Drivers.
A driver should never agree to meet a customer somewhere other than a valid residence, Pohle said. The restaurant also should have alerted police when the driver failed to return.
"Never go anywhere that's not the address you are supposed to be going to," Pohle said. "That was either the driver's error or the store manager pressuring him to take a big delivery."
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Pizza Hut issued a statement in the wake of Poe's death saying that driver safety was a top priority and the company would cooperate with police to bring his killers to justice.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, driver/sales workers and truck drivers, including pizza-delivery drivers, remains one of the 10 most dangerous professions in the United States. Labor statistics show the fatality rate in the driver category was 29.1 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2005, an increase of .09 percent from 26.7 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2003.
To help prevent drivers from becoming a target, most, if not all, pizza companies have policies in place governing cash-handling and driver-security issues.
"Drivers are instructed to carry less than $20, and to make drops when they return to the store after all delivery runs," said Tim McIntyre, Domino's vice president of communications. "We instruct them to verify orders from new customers and they are trained to also verify late-night orders."
Although those policies are easy to enforce on a slow Monday night, it's a bit more difficult on a busy Friday when a restaurant may have several drivers carrying multiple deliveries each, and the restaurant's phones are ringing off the hook, Pohle said.
While drivers are instructed to carry no more than $20 when they leave the store, if a driver makes three or four deliveries, he or she can accumulate $100 or more before returning.
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Always park your car as close as possible to the door of the delivery destination.
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Do your best to shine your car's headlights on the door of the house or apartment.
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If someone approaches your car, roll your window no more than halfway down.
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Never walk behind a dark building, go to a side door or be called away from plain view by anyone at the delivery destination.
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Hide something on your person, such as pepper spray, as a last-ditch defensive weapon.
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Where possible, don't turn your back to the street, and keep it against a solid object, such as a wall.
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Carry yourself with authority. Head up, back straight, jogging or walking briskly.
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If someone approaches you, keep them at least an arm's distance away and don't allow them to draw your attention away to them.
* Source: Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers
In an effort to prevent drivers from having so much cash, pizza companies in recent years have attempted to limit the number of deliveries a driver takes at any one time, Pohle said. And although the rule is geared toward safety, it also raises the ire of delivery drivers, he said.
"All of the big three (Pizza Hut, Domino's and Papa John's) have attempted to do this," Pohle said. "It does cut into the driver's money, though."
Weapons not a solution
Pohle urges drivers to call the customer before leaving the store to prevent fraudulent deliveries.
Drivers need to make regular cash drops as well, he said. If a driver is carrying several runs, he or she should hide excess cash somewhere in the car, such as in the glove compartment box or under the seat.
"Hide the money somewhere else besides on your body," Pohle said. "If you do get robbed for more than $20, criminals will target drivers from your store because they think you carry a lot of money."
Pohle discourages drivers from carrying guns, and nearly every pizza company has a policy against the practice. Carrying a gun can make a driver less safe rather than safer, he said.
"If you have 20 people walking around with a 9 mm, an accident is going to happen," Pohle said. "When accidents happen while you are carrying a gun, people die."
If criminals know a driver is carrying a weapon, they also may be encouraged to shoot first in a robbery attempt, he said.
"People who rob us now know we aren't allowed to carry weapons, and they take advantage of that," Pohle said. "If they know you have a gun, they are going to shoot you and take your gun and $20 instead of just taking your $20."