CLEAN-UP ON AISLE 1: Anonymous shopper foils robbery at Alabama grocery checkout counter

Published 5:37 am Sunday, December 19, 2021

An attempted robbery ended calmly and non-violently thanks to the quick-thinking of an anonymous Winn-Dixie shopper, according to an eyewitness.

The Alexander City Police Department was called to the scene at checkout aisle one Wednesday afternoon to take Israel Tolbert, who was lying on the ground in a restraint position, into custody. Tolbert, a 33-year-old Dadeville resident, was arrested for third-degree robbery, according to the police report.

When the cops arrived, the unknown man took his groceries and left.

“The guy just gave everybody a wave and left, and I felt like we probably should have applauded,” Coosa County resident Cameron Lackey said. “Everybody seemed frozen except for that guy, and I just thought it was remarkable how quickly he sprang into action.

Lackey, who works for Alexander City Schools, said she was standing in line for checkout a few aisles down when she first noticed the incident, after the cashier let out a “kind of yelp.” She did not notice a weapon.

“The attempted robber grabbed the cashier and had his arms around her and she was saying ‘OK, just let me get it; let me get it,'” she said.

Alexander City police captain Mario Hodge confirmed the scene.

“He came up behind the cashier, held her arms against her side and told her to give him the money,” Hodge said.

Lackey, hands shaking, said she tried to auto-dial emergency services on her iPhone — which is done by holding down the volume and side button, and dragging the “Emergency SOS” slider — but couldn’t think straight.

It was at that point that a man in his 40s or 50s came up behind the suspect, put him in what Lackey described as a “wrestling hold” and slowly lowered him to the ground, all the while speaking to the suspect in soothing tones.

According to the eyewitness, the man appeared to be trained in de-escalation techniques.

“It was over just as quickly as it started,” Lackey said. “It was very smooth. I can almost promise he didn’t hurt the guy.”
The random citizen continued to restrain Tolbert until the police arrived, then took off.

Lackey said she regrets not thanking him.

“I think he needs to be acknowledged as a hero,” she said. “Because whether that fellow was armed or not, I think that was really scary for everybody involved.”

Hodge also commended the anonymous citizen.

“We appreciate the help from a local hero that quickly diffused the situation,” he said.