April 1, 2011
'I just reacted'
Amputee, 55, describes how he took down alleged robber
MIDDLETON — Stephen Cornell didn't think about his family or his job when he looked through the glass door at JC Grill & Pizza on Wednesday night and saw a man pointing a black handgun at the owner inside.
"I just reacted," said Cornell, 55, a regular customer at the convenience store. "I said, 'OK, I'll just wait,' and when he tries to come out of the store, I was going to jump him. He just came out so fast I tripped him, and he tripped me and I fell, and he fell."
Cornell, who has a prosthetic leg and recently underwent shoulder surgery, said he actually intended to tackle the suspect, not trip him.
"He stumbled and fell, and God, when I was on the ground I was thinking, 'Oh, my God, the next thing you know, he's going to shoot me.'"
In the meantime, convenience store owner Edson Andrade had come around the counter and ran outside to help.
The suspect, whom police identified as Eric F. Homen, 23, of 7 Raymond Circle, Peabody, got up and fled with the pistol, which turned out to be an air-powered pellet gun, police said.
"He was shooting, and he was firing the BB gun at (Andrade)," Cornell said.
Turning to shoot forced Homen to slow down, Cornell said, and Andrade, who was not hit by the pellets, tackled the suspect, pinning him in a headlock. Cornell stepped on Homen's legs, and the men took his gun and subdued him, Andrade said.
The suspect pleaded with his captors to let him go and gave back the money, $98, according to police.
"He had him in a chokehold all the way back to the store," Cornell said.
When police arrived, they found Andrade and Cornell on top of Homen. They arrested the suspect and charged him with armed robbery while masked and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Arraigned in Salem District Court yesterday, Homen pleaded not guilty and was held without bail.
After his arrest, a "nervous" Homen agreed to talk to police, but in a videotaped interview, he claimed he could not recall what happened at the store, according to court papers. Homen said he was driving around Peabody, smoking marijuana, and recalled passing Richardson's Ice Cream on Route 114. Then, he said, he "blacked out" and didn't remember anything else.
Homen's parents were in court yesterday but declined to comment.
'Everything they tell you not to do'
Both Cornell and Andrade said they didn't think the gun was real. Still, in hindsight, Cornell, a father of two teenagers and a 32-year employee at Eastman Gelatine, said tripping an armed suspect wasn't the smartest move. After the incident, Cornell called his wife, Linda, and told her he helped stop a robbery.
"She said, 'You did everything they tell you not to do," Cornell said. "I don't know. I reacted first and didn't think."
Andrade is a 36-year-old father of two who lives in Saugus. He was closing up around 8:50 p.m. when the suspect, with a shirt covering his face, walked in with the gun, the shop owner said.
"I looked down, and he has the gun in front of me," Andrade said. At first, he thought it was a joke. "I thought it was not real, but you don't want to take any chances, you know what I mean?"
The suspect demanded $300, he said, but Andrade said he didn't have that much and told the man to just walk out. His sister, Rozane, was in the kitchen and didn't know what was happening.
"I look outside, and I saw Steve," Andrade said. He threw the money at the suspect, and the man fled.
Police Chief James DiGianvittorio agrees that perhaps Cornell and Andrade should have used more caution.
"On a case like this, where it's a fleeing felon, you really don't want people to corner a person like that because you don't know what they are capable of doing," he said. "You are lucky it worked out the way it did. ... If it was a real gun, we would be dealing with two deaths right now."
Nonetheless, the chief plans to bring Cornell, Andrade, and responding officers Adam Maccini and Robert Currier to the next selectmen's meeting so he can give the civilians citations of bravery and the officers letters of commendation.
Cornell, who has lived in Middleton since 1990, is a regular at the convenience store at 323 N. Main St. (Route 114), which is a short walk from his Piedmont Street home.
He grew up in Malden and lost his leg in 1968 at age 12 while trying to jump on a freight train, disobeying the warning of his mother after he'd attempted the stunt a few days before.
"I saw the train going by again, and I had a race with a bunch of friends, and I guess I didn't run alongside of the train, I just ran straight at it."
Cornell missed the train, and it ran over his leg.
He remembers pulling his leg off the railroad tracks and backing away. Someone in a nearby lumberyard heard his screams.
"They just kept on asking my name, address, telephone number, parents; I was in a state of shock at that point."
Cornell recalls Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski visiting him in the hospital. Cornell mistook Yaz for Tony Conigliaro, another popular Sox player from the Impossible Dream season.
"At 12, I still had no fear and wouldn't believe in what the doctors told me — I couldn't ride a bike, and I couldn't play sports. I don't accept 'no' that easily."
Cornell remains upbeat despite his setback as a kid. His prosthetic leg sports a Patriots sticker on the thigh, and he calls it "Mr. Patriot" for his love of the team.
"So many people have helped me out with my injury and leg," Cornell said, reflecting yesterday on his actions Wednesday night. "It's just nice to return the favor to someone else."
"The good people, they come through in situations like this," Andrade said. "I told him, you save the day, I buy you dinner."
Staff writer Julie Manganis contributed to this report.
June 2021 May 2021 April 2021 March 2021 February 2021 January 2021 December 2020 November 2020 October 2020 September 2020 August 2020 July 2020 June 2020 May 2020 April 2020 March 2020 February 2020 January 2020 December 2019 November 2019 October 2019 September 2019 August 2019 July 2019 June 2019 May 2019 April 2019 March 2019 February 2019 January 2019 December 2018 November 2018 October 2018 September 2018 August 2018 July 2018 June 2018 May 2018 April 2018 March 2018 February 2018 January 2018 December 2017 November 2017 October 2017 September 2017 August 2017 July 2017 June 2017 May 2017 April 2017 March 2017 February 2017 January 2017 December 2016 November 2016 October 2016 September 2016 August 2016 July 2016 June 2016 May 2016 April 2016 March 2016 February 2016 January 2016 December 2015 November 2015 October 2015 September 2015 August 2015 July 2015 June 2015 May 2015 April 2015 March 2015 February 2015 January 2015 December 2014 November 2014 October 2014 September 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008