2 women, girl charged after 'Scream' crime

News Staff Reporter

Two young women and a girl, dressed in costumes from a horror film, burst into a Grand Island restaurant early Saturday in a bizarre robbery attempt, but chef Michael Litzel cooked up a quick recipe to thwart the crime, authorities said.

Litzel struck one of the three on the head with the mallet she wielded in the robbery attempt, sending the the group fleeing. They later were arrested, but only after the getaway driver drove over the foot of one of the thieves, police said.

The three - armed with BB pistols, a hacksaw, a pry bar and a steel mallet - charged in through a side door of Cathy & Jim's Del & Herb's restaurant at about 1 a.m. Saturday and ordered everyone onto the floor, police said.

The three wore black capes, hoods and masks - stretched, stark white faces with black eyes and a black mouth - like those in the movie "Scream."

Litzel, who was sipping a drink at the restaurant's bar after finishing his cooking duties, initially thought it was a joke. But then the situation turned ugly.

"The one with the mallet knocked the barmaid's fiance to the floor from his bar stool, and then she started coming at me with the mallet raised over her head," said Litzel, 38.

He sensed he had a fighting chance.

"I could tell they were females by the sound of their voices, and my gut told me they wouldn't pull the triggers on the guns, and so I grabbed the mallet," he said.

During a fierce struggle, Litzel said he was able to "clobber the woman in the side of the face with the steel head of the mallet," causing her to fall back into one of the other intruders, who caught her.

At that point, the three fled. But Litzel and some of the patrons went in pursuit.

"Someone yelled, "Get the license plate number,' and we ran outside. The car was parked under a light about 75 yards away, and Mark got a description," Litzel said, referring to Mark Zerilli, a fellow cook who identified the getaway car as a gray Chrysler

The bar patron who had been knocked to the floor stopped a passing motorist, who agreed to help him chase the fleeing car. But they lost sight of the vehicle after its lights were turned off, Litzel said.

At about the same time, Erie County Sheriff's Deputy Bradley Girdler arrived at the restaurant at 1270 Baseline Road and put out a description of the vehicle over his police radio.

The attackers apparently stopped briefly in a driveway on Staley Road and changed out of their costumes before heading south over the the South Grand Island Bridge, authorities said.

Deputy John Scirri then spotted their vehicle. With the help of Town of Tonawanda police, Scirri stopped the getaway car on the Youngmann Highway near Delaware Avenue and arrested Kandria Matthews, 19; Caitlin Connelly, 17; and Krystal Rains, 18, all of Grand Island.

They were charged with attempted robbery, menacing and criminal possession of several weapons, including two BB pistols, two BB rifles, and the hacksaw, pry bar and mallet. The BB guns were not loaded, police said.

Sheriff's Detective Fred Vincent said he believes thrill-seeking was the main motive behind the bizarre episode.

"I don't think they were after money. I think they wanted to scare the patrons," Vincent said. "This was obviously something that was preplanned. They had used masking tape to cover the numbers on the license plate of their car."

Matthews was identified as the one carrying the mallet; the other two "each had a pistol in one hand and either a hacksaw or pry bar in the other hand," Vincent said.

The detective and Ed Lang, whose wife, Ilona, owns the restaurant, praised Litzel for his courage.

"He's a very good chef, but I had no idea he had this kind of ability," Lang said. "I'm thankful for the great thing he did. It takes courage to do that."

Litzel, who has worked as a chef at restaurants throughout New York State for 20 years, said he had started at the Grand Island establishment about two weeks ago.

"This job offer came up, and I was raised on Grand Island, and I wanted to return home," Litzel said, adding that in all his years of cooking, he had never encountered this type of situation. "I just reacted instinctually," he said.

Employees said Rains had worked at the restaurant as a dishwasher from June until she quit in December.

Connelly, authorities said, was injured when Matthews drove the getaway car over her foot when they stopped on Staley Road.

Connelly's condition was being evaluated late Saturday in the emergency room at Erie County Medical Center. Matthews and Rains were taken to the Erie County Holding Center.

Deputies Timothy Dusza and David Makowski assisted in the arrests.