DAVENPORT – When a customer walked into Arati Desai’s liquor store in Northeast Polk County, she initially had no idea about the terrifying experience she was about to go through.
She also had no clue how well it would all turn out.
“It was scary, yes,” she said.
Desai owns and operates the Hollywood Liquor Store at 114 Polo Park Boulevard in Davenport, and on Friday around 3:50 p.m., an otherwise routine day turning harrowing when a man – later identified as Kenneth Leiner, 34, of 2216 Clementine Trail in Clermont – showed up.
“He walked in and, you know, I was sitting here in a chair,” Desai said. “Most of the time people come in and they go around and shop. But he was not doing that. I said, ‘Maybe he will look around.’ “
Instead, Desai said, he called her over to him – and then pulled out a black handgun and pointed it at her.
“He called me over, and I was thinking he wanted something small,” she said. “So I went to him and he showed me the gun and he said ‘Open the register,’ “ she said. “I was so scared, I forgot how to open the register, and he kept saying ‘Open the register, open the register, give me the money.’ “
But it turns out that the robber picked the wrong store to target.
Arati Desai was having trouble opening the register, so she called to her husband, Yogi, to come help her. At the same time, she hit the security alarm button.
“When it happened with my wife, she was pretty scared,” Yogi Desai said. “I was in the back room when she called for me.”
“We have security and I pushed for that, and I called my husband and said ‘He wants me to open the register,’ “ Arati said. “My husband came over and asked me, ‘Why does he want you to open the register,’ and then he realized why. He saw him holding the gun.”
When he did, Yogi Desai grabbed a baseball bat that he keeps behind the counter, and the owner of the liquor store ended up joining some nearby good Samaritans in fighting back against the armed robbery suspect, holding the man until law enforcement arrived to take him into custody.
As Desai raised the bat against Leiner, the suspect ran out of the store. Yogi Desai chased him and was able to strike Leiner on the head one time before he fled.
Yogi Desai chased Leiner as he ran out of the store, bat in hand, and yelled to the owner of the 19th Hole bar next door, John McNeely, that the man he was chasing had tried to rob him and had a handgun.
McNeely began chasing Leiner as well, and the suspect’s luck went from bad to worse as the handgun fell out of his jacket pocket onto the ground. As Leiner ran through the parking lot of Center State bank and approached the intersection of Polo Park Boulevard and U.S. 27, he stopped running and turned to face Desai and McNeely. That’s when McNeely tackled Leiner to the ground, closely followed by Desai.
“The bar owner joined us and he helped us,” Arati Desai said.
Four other men who were close by noticed the chase and joined in. Shawn David, Kenneth Yarborough, Joseph Hallett, and Braddan Jackson formed a circle around the men on the ground, preventing Leiner from escaping. One of the men called 911, while Jackson walked back and picked up the handgun that Leiner had dropped. It turned out to be a black air soft pellet gun.
Another bystander, John Leahy IV, who was at Center State Bank with Jackson, walked over to the suspect’s vehicle and got Leiner’s personal information. When Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputies got to the scene, the good samaritans had a suspect in custody, and the deputies got handed the weapon he had used to commit the crime, as well as the robber’s identification.
Arati Desai said she and her husband were so grateful to the men who assisted them during this robbery.
“They came out and helped, and John tackled him and put him on the ground, and then some other guys came and helped us,” she said. “They are so nice to us. That worked out great, I’m so glad we caught him.”
Leiner was booked into the Polk County Jail and charged with one count of armed robbery. His arrest prompted Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd to note, “Wow, talk about teamwork. Our citizens did everything but write the report and take this robber to jail for us. I’m so proud of these people who risked their lives to do what was right, and I will formally recognize them at a future date. Obviously, Leiner didn’t know he was doing, trying to rob a store in Polk County. We all work together to fight crime here — that is why crime is at a historic 39 year low. We don’t play in this county.”
The sheriff’s office also noted that Leiner has an extensive criminal history, often under the alias Aaron Howard, in Lake and Sumter counties, including arrests for passing on counterfeit prescriptions, obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, burglary, fraudulent and illegal use of a credit card, larceny, and battery/domestic violence.
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