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A dog day afternoon
Philadelphia - The waiting room was full at the Radbill Animal Hospital when a man walked behind the reception desk and confronted a technician.
PHILADELPHIA — The waiting room was full at the Radbill Animal Hospital in Philadelphia when a man walked behind the reception desk and confronted a technician.
In harm's way: Wanda Auten, a veterinary technician at Radbill Animal Hospital in Philadelphia confronted an armed robber who stormed into Dr. Steven Radbill's clinic while he was in an exam room. (Photo: Dustin Fenstermacher)
"Nobody just walks in through the waiting room. So I'm all puffed out like, 'Can I help you?' And he just leans in real close and says, 'This is a robbery, I have a gun. I'm a drug dealer, and I want your money,'" recalls 43-year-old Wanda Auten, a certified veterinary technician who has worked for clinic owner Dr. Steven Radbill for more than six years.
It was 6:15 p.m. on May 21, a Thursday evening. When the would-be robber threatened her, Auten says all she could think about was the safety of her co-workers and clients.
"It just popped into my head that I had my gun in my purse. So I tell the guy that I have a lot of money in my purse, which was about 25 feet away," Auten recalls.
They walk over to her purse, and she pulled out her fully loaded and registered 32-mm Keltec slide-action automatic pistol.
She pointed the gun at the man and quietly told him to get out. Instead, he grabbed her and spun her around. The man didn't even seem to acknowledge the gun, Auten explains.
"I thought he was going to take me hostage, but I was able to turn around and put the gun in his face. I yelled, 'He is trying to rob us. Help!'
That's when Lt. Andrew Napoli of the Philadelphia Police Marine Unit took action. The 20-year police officer was sitting in the waiting room with his daughter, wife and their new puppy. Napoli tackled the intruder. Radbill piled on, and so did another client from one of the examination rooms.
"I helped to tackle him, subdue him, then the client who was in the exam room with me comes out, and we sat on this guy until the police came," Radbill says, adding when he first heard Auten yell to the man to get out, he had assumed there was a dog fight in the waiting room.
"He kept shouting, 'Get off me; get off me'!" Radbill says. "And Lt. Napoli kept saying, 'You're not going anywhere.' He's a cop; he just did what was natural."
Three minutes later, about 12 police officers showed up and identified the robber as 46-year-old David Minarczyk, a suspect in three other armed robberies of drug stores in the area.
Calm and collected during the melee, Auten says she broke down after the police arrived.
"I've never had to pull a pistol on anyone before, but I've been trained to target-shoot," she says, adding that she is from a quiet town and was trained to use the gun for self-protection by her husband when she moved to the city. "But I would do it again in a heartbeat to protect Dr. Radbill and Colleen. They're like my family."
"He thought this place was an easy mark, but he was wrong," adds Radbill, who serves as secretary for the Pennsylvania State Board of Veterinary Medicine.
Not one client left the waiting room while the robber was taken down, and Radbill ended up treating his patients after the police left.
Minarczyk was charged with robbery, inflicting serious bodily harm, burglary, criminal trespassing, criminal theft, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person during the attempted hold-up, which all occurred on his 46th birthday. More charges involving three other robberies were filed after his arrest. Auten was scheduled to testify against him at press time.