Laundromat owner wounds would-be robber in Fairhill

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Elvin Gonzalez had just gotten out of his car at 5th and Cambria Streets on Sunday night, headed for his first day of work at the pizza parlor on the corner, when he saw the money in the air — $2,000 in cash, wafting down to the sidewalk.

And then he heard the gunshots.

Moments before, police said, a man had burst into the laundromat down the street wielding a knife. He had forced the laundromat’s owner behind the plexiglass enclosure at the front of the store and grabbed fistfuls of cash at knifepoint before sprinting out of the store.

The owner grabbed his five-shot revolver, police said, and gave chase. As he pursued the would-be robber down the sidewalk, the man threw the cash in the air and kept running. In the intersection at 5th and Cambria Streets, the store owner emptied his revolver in the man’s direction, hitting him twice in the chest.

On the street, bystanders ducked bullets. One woman was hit twice in the hand. Gonzalez watched, agape, from across the street.

“People were running away, north, south, west, east,” he said. “And then I thought, ‘Why are they coming back?’”

Then he realized: “The money was flying in the air.”

By the time police got there, the cash was gone, said Philadelphia Police Capt. George Fuchs, pocketed by bystanders.

The laundromat owner was in custody Sunday night and cooperating with police, Fuchs said. It was unclear whether he would be charged in the incident. Police said the gun was owned legally.

The man who tried to rob his store, who police said was 42 years old, was in critical condition at Temple University Hospital and will be charged for the robbery, Fuchs said – the laundromat had security cameras that had captured the incident inside. The 52-year-old woman struck in the chaos was in stable condition, he said.

The laundromat owner, whose name was not released by police, has been on 5th Street for years; storeowners nearby said he was married with several small children and worked seven days a week.

“They are really good people,” said Angel Perez, who owns a shop specializing in spiritual art next to the laundromat. He said storeowners in the area were shaken by the incident, and added he believed his neighbor had been acting in self-defense. “I think he should be released from jail – it’s not fair.”

As he spoke, two gunshots sounded from around the corner. “That’s another one,” he said.

Police officers raced down the block to a bar at 4th and Cambria Streets, where witnesses said that a man had approached the bar and pointed a gun at a patron sitting on the stoop. A bar employee drew his own gun and fired two shots at him, patrons said, and the first man took off down the street. Police were still investigating the incident Sunday night.

Back at the pizza parlor, delivery driver Gonzalez was shaken himself. He had worked at the store three years before, he said, and had been looking forward to returning. An hour into his first shift, as police took down the crime-scene tape and news cameras clustered on Cambria Street, he called his wife.

On second thought, he told her, this might not be the job for him.

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