Catch of the day: Sushi chef helps foil attempted robbery at Kamakura
CHAMPAIGN — An Ogden man who apparently needed cash to pay a drug dealer picked the wrong place to find it.
While allegedly trying to rob the hostess at Champaign's Kamakura Japanese restaurant (715 S. Neil St.) Tuesday night, Clayton Dial was confronted by a knife-wielding sushi chef, two other loyal co-workers who held him until police arrived (and who got in a few licks as they waited) and a circuit court judge who witnessed part of the confrontation.
State's Attorney Julia Rietz said Dial, 23, was charged Wednesday with attempted aggravated robbery, intimidation and aggravated battery following his ill-conceived attempt to get cash. He was being held in the county jail in lieu of $100,000 bond and is due back in court with a lawyer on Jan. 7.
The crime started around 7:20 p.m. Tuesday when a man entered the restaurant, stepped to the cash register just inside the door, pulled what appeared to be a revolver from his waistband and demanded cash from the hostess.
"He just stood there and started asking for money," said Tetsuji Miwa, the 39-year-old sushi chef who was only a few yards away from the 17-year-old female hostess. "I saw her face. She was very scared."
"I heard him the second time. He said, 'Give me your money. Open the drawer.' That's when I instantly grabbed my sushi knife, walked up to him, wrapped my arm around his shoulder and asked him what he wanted. He saw the blade, got scared and started running," Miwa said.
By then, waitress Aichan Mitsuhashi-Acs had alerted other employees that a robbery was happening. General manager Yuji Niizuma and assistant manager Joe Pendzialek came running from the kitchen while Mitsuhashi-Acs phoned 911.
"Tet was halfway out the door. We could see him with the knife," said Niizuma, who said he and Pendzialek instinctively came to the aid of their friend and coworker.
"We didn't have a choice because he was engaged in the fight," Niizuma said.
"Tet's got kids," Pendzialek added.
The employee trio ended up in the parking lot, where they got Dial on the ground and were struggling to control him as he fought back.
Pendzialek said on the way out he grabbed a small stool near the front door "and cracked him over the head with it."
Miwa said he hadn't seen a gun but Niizuma had. Dial still had it in his hand, and Niizuma said that while Pendzialek had Dial in a chokehold, he punched Dial's arm until Dial let go of the gun. Niizuma didn't know then that it was a pellet gun.
Mitsuhashi-Acs said Pendzialek kicked the gun away and she picked it up to get it away from the fracas.
Champaign County Judge Arnold Blockman, meanwhile, had just parked his car, intent on picking up a to-go order of sushi for him and his wife to eat at home while watching the Kennedy Center Honors on television.
"I saw two people running out of the restaurant. My first thought was it was some kids chasing each other. As they got to the other side of the parking lot, somebody fell and I saw somebody beating on someone and one of the waitresses just standing in the parking lot screaming with the phone."
"I went inside and the poor cashier was just traumatized. She was sitting there with the money," Blockman said.
Blockman said he later spoke with Miwa.
"I said, 'You've got to be really brave to go after someone with a knife.' It's almost comical, but it was so frightening," Blockman said.
Miwa said the last thing he wanted to do was use his knife, but he would have if absolutely necessary.
"It's pretty expensive so I didn't want to damage it or use it. I was telling him, 'Don't make me use this.' As soon as the other two managers came out, I set it down to the ground very carefully because I didn't want to damage my blade," said Miwa, an eight-year employee of Kamakura.
He, Niizuma and Pendzialek were so preoccupied trying to subdue Dial, they didn't notice, as had Blockman and Mitsuhashi-Acs, that Dial's getaway vehicle was getting away.
A white van driven by Dial's girlfriend, Kelsey Cabellero, 23, who listed an address in the 500 block of North Russell Street, Champaign, was leaving the business. Police stopped it not far away and arrested Cabellero on an outstanding warrant. She had failed to appear in court Dec. 2 on a possession of a controlled substance charge filed in late October.
Rietz said that Dial admitted to police he has a drug problem and said he went in the restaurant to get money he needed to pay a drug debt. In 2009, he was given first offender probation for possession of a controlled substance, she said.
On Wednesday, the employees and the judge were still pretty pumped about the trauma.
Niizuma's right hand was still puffy and swollen from punching Dial's arm. And Miwa was using crutches for a sprained ankle. He wasn't even sure how that happened. Pendzialek wasn't hurt. And the hostess had attention from paramedics Tuesday night after hyperventilating from the scare.
Mitsuhashi-Acs said nothing like this has happened in the seven years she's worked at the restaurant. She wasn't scared.
"I was very confident. We had the situation under control. And the police had a great response time. They were fabulous," she said.
Blockman, meanwhile, marveled at the great service he received.
"I told the poor guy, 'This is a traumatic experience. Forget my order.' He said, 'No, we want to take care of you.' There were diners in the place who didn't even know what was going on. It happened so fast," Blockman said.
"That'll teach me to go out for sushi."