Would you hire this man?

June 1, 2004

An Indianapolis judge's ruling today cleared former Pizza Hut delivery driver Ronald Honeycutt of any wrongdoing in the shooting death of Jerome Brown-Dancler.

According to police reports, at about 11 p.m. on May 17, Honeycutt was returning to his van after making a delivery in a high-crime neighborhood, and Brown-Dancler appeared from the side of the van and pointed a gun at him. Honeycutt quickly drew his own weapon and shot 15 times, striking Brown-Dancler more than a dozen times. He died shortly after.

The next day, because of a Pizza Hut mandate against drivers carrying weapons while working, Honeycutt—who had a concealed-carry permit for the gun—was fired from his job, making a sad story even sadder.

Honeycutt told the Indianapolis Star that he chose to violate the chain's policy because while pizza

Steve Coomes, Senior Editor

delivery was a job he'd enjoyed for 20 years, he didn't like it enough to die while doing it. In his mind, being fired sure beat getting killed; he knew he could always find another job.

I'd be interested to find out whether Honeycutt attempts to find another pizza delivery job.

I'd be even more interested to talk the person who hires him.

Would you hire him?

It's a tough call to be sure.

The simple fact that Honeycutt has a 20-year history in pizza delivery proves he can do the job, and every operator I know might like someone with such experience. But the fact that he violated his employer's zero-tolerance policy can't be overlooked either; it makes one wonder if he broke other Pizza Hut rules and would do the same working for the next shop.

Not cut and dried

One gun-toting friend of mine always says, "If I ever have to use this thing, you can bet there'll only be one us on the witness stand explaining what happened." While that sounds like cocky street talk, it's actually a folksy distillation of what firearms instructors tell all their students: If you're going to shoot, shoot to kill.

But should a pizza delivery driver be in that situation?

Unfortunately, too many of them are, and because of that, many drivers go on the job packing heat.

How many?

I'm sure we'll never find out officially, given that companies don't allow it. But dozens of drivers I've communicated with in phone calls and through e-mail say they carry some kind of weapon to work; most times it's a gun. Still, I sense that group makes up a minority of drivers.

Tim Lockwood, a long-time pizza delivery driver and treasurer of the Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers doesn't carry a gun. Were he faced with delivering to a neighborhood where carrying a firearm was necessary, he said he'd work elsewhere.

But as he points out, someone's got "to deliver to those neighborhoods," and those drivers who go there should be allowed to carry guns if they "are fully trained and properly licensed. The old mantra of, 'Give the robber what he wants,' is no longer foolproof," he wrote in an e-mail. "It may have worked 20 years ago, but these are different times."

He's right. These are different times. Not only does it appear more and more drivers are being robbed, those robberies are becoming more violent. I've reported on this industry for just five years, but there's no doubt in my mind the number of reports of violent crimes against drivers is rising.

Does that mean the Pizza Huts of the industry should let their drivers carry guns? Hardly. That's simply too dangerous, and no insurer would allow it.

But if you ask me whether I'm glad Ronald Honeycutt broke a company rule by arming himself on that fateful night, you'll get an unqualified yes.

Now, back to my question: Would you hire him?

Based on what little I know about Honeycutt, I would, and here's why:

                   * He was courageous enough to deliver pizza to a high-crime area. (I wouldn't.)

* He was cool enough under pressure to get the jump on a man who already had his gun on him. (I'd have shot myself just grabbing for my gun.) I'd say he'd be a cool customer in other stressful positions in the pizza industry, too.

* He had enough guts to fire until his foe was clearly immobilized. (I could see myself thinking after a few shots, "Well, that'll do," and then wind up getting shot in the back as I fled.)

* He had the presence of mind to get Brown-Dancler's gun before he left the scene in order to ensure no one else nearby could use the weapon on him or steal it from the scene. (I'd have freaked out and fled.) As it turns out, Brown-Dancler's friends were nearby.

So, yeah, I'd hire the guy if he came to my place. Maybe I'm a fool, but Honeycutt doesn't sound like some gun-slinging nut case who I'd be afraid to have on my staff. He sounds like a man who valued his life more than a job and took necessary measures to protect it. It's unfortunate he had to violate his employer's rule to do that, but as Lockwood said, "at least he'll live to fight another day. Not everyone is so lucky."

Topics: Commentary , Crime

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