VIDEO: Jewelry store owner exchanges gunfire with armed robbers in Naples
By Naples Daily News staff report
Updated Wednesday, February 9, 2011
NAPLES — The owner of a defensive gun school in Fort Myers wasn’t about to let armed robbers outside his Naples jewelry store get away without a fight.
So, when Sandy Thalheimer, owner of Thalheimers Jewelers, saw masked men speed off after robbing someone in his jewelry store parking lot Tuesday afternoon, he raced toward their car, rammed it with his truck and within seconds was in the middle of a shootout, taking on more than four men.
“It is the first time I have ever had someone shoot at me and it is the first time I have ever shot back,” said Thalheimer, who has taught hundreds of people defensive shooting tactics at Sandy Thalheimer Defensive Gun School.
Thalheimer had nothing at stake financially. Still, he risked his life to stop the armed men from leaving with the goods he believed they stole from the east coast-based jewelry salesman identified only as “Greg,” who was on a sales call at Thalheimer’s store.
The suspects, however, eluded Thalheimer, making off with an undisclosed amount of jewelry. They managed to elude law enforcement by switching getaway cars twice.
The masked suspects held up the jewelry delivery man about 2:30 p.m. in the parking lot at Thalheimers Jewelers, 3200 U.S. 41 N., according to the Naples Police Department. Police initially said they were looking for two suspects plus one getaway driver. However, Thalheimer said there were four people in the first car and at least two getaway drivers.
Thalheimer said he was leaving the store in his truck to pick something up at 7-Eleven when he became suspicious of masked men speeding in his parking lot.
The store owner took action, ramming the suspects’ black Ford Taurus sedan in the driver’s side with his white pickup truck. All of the air bags in the car deployed.
Thalheimer planned to back away, but his truck was stuck, entangled in their car, he said.
“At that point, I didn’t want to get executed sitting on my gun,” Thalheimer said.
He got out of his truck.
“There was nowhere to run. I had to deal with it,” he said.
He and the suspects, who were also wearing bandanas, exchanged gunfire, Thalheimer said.
Thalheimer fired all five rounds from the pocket pistol he keeps in his truck, he said. The culprits, he said, fired several more rounds, including gunshots that came at him from another getaway car across the street, he said.
Thalheimer said he couldn’t describe the suspects because he was concerned more about shooting the armed men and avoiding being shot.
“When someone is shooting at you, all you know is someone is shooting at you,” he said. “The first time I saw them they had masks on and the next time I saw them they were shooting at me.
“You just react and you’re just doing it … I was looking at the front sights and thinking about the trigger.”
No one was injured as a result of the shots fired, said Naples police Lt. John Barkley at the scene.
However, Thalheimer said he wasn’t sure whether a bullet from his gun may have hit at least one of the suspects.
There was no trace of blood reported at the scene.
The suspects jumped into a red sport utility vehicle, then dumped it a couple of blocks south on Creech Road and got into a gray SUV, Barkley said.
The suspects got away with three black bags of jewelry, including a duffle bag and two smaller black jewelry bags, in a getaway car that may have been driven by a Hispanic woman, he said.
Fred Swetland, owner of Citisleeper, located in the shopping center across Ridge Street from the jewelry store, said he heard the gunshots.
“I heard large caliber shots ... about half dozen of them,” Swetland said. “I ran out. Someone said ‘Don’t go over there!’ I’m ex-military. Hell, I’m going over there.”
“It was a big boy,” he said of the gun, based on the sound of the gunshots.
Upstairs from the jewelry store, attorney Steve Blount, of the Woodward, Pires and Lombardo law firm, said he heard four or five shots then saw two guys running across the street toward an orangish-red SUV that was “tearing down the street real fast.”
They had hooded jackets on, he said. Possibly blue in color, Blount said as he held the leash to his black Lab named Major, who was in the office with him at the time the shots were fired. Blount saw the men run across the parking lot and into a field yielding guns, he said.
“I was supposed to be walking in that field with Major,” Blount said, shaking his head side to side.
As for the gun-toting, jewelry store owner, he was into racing sports cars before he became interested in handgun competition and training.
Thalheimer, a nationally classified master shooter and president of the Naples Swamp Rompers Gun Club
, told the Daily News about his two passions in a 2009 interview that also ironically encapsulates Tuesday’s events of shots being blasted and speeding getaway cars.
“Shooting is like racing — the person who can go the fastest with the least amount of mistakes wins,” he said.