Man arrested in candy store heist

By Alex MacLean, The Union Democrat

An employee at an East Sonora candy shop was robbed at knifepoint Saturday by a Sonora man who worked in the same shopping center, according to the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office.

In the third armed robbery in two months, authorities say a man entered the Columbia Candy Kitchen in The Junction shopping center brandishing a knife and demanding cash.

John Robert Olguin, 23, of the 21100 block of Phoenix Lake Road, was arrested in connection with the crime based on the victim's description, the sheriff's office said. The man was taken into custody while at his job at a fast food restaurant in the same shopping center where the robbery occurred.

Sheriff's deputies responded to the Columbia Candy Kitchen on the 13700 block of Mono Way about 4 p.m. after an employee reported a man with about a foot-long knife entered the business and demanded the money in the cash register, a Sheriff's Office news release stated Monday.

The employee handed over the cash - about $160 - which the suspect put into a sack and fled the scene on foot, the Sheriff's Office report stated.

Sheriff's deputies searched the area but couldn't find anyone matching the suspect's description. The investigation eventually led to Olguin being questioned for the robbery, the Sheriff's Office said.

Sheriff's Sgt. Jeff Wilson said a deputy recognized the man based on the victim's description as an employee at Jack in the Box located just about 100 yards from the Columbia Candy Kitchen.

Olguin was detained by sheriff's deputies after a search of his vehicle uncovered a bag matching the description of the one used in the robbery as well as a long knife, Wilson said.

Olguin was arrested and booked into Tuolumne County Jail on suspicion of first-degree robbery, after the victim was brought to the scene and positively identified him as the suspect, the Sheriff's Office news release said.

Sarah Gardella, co-owner of the Columbia Candy Kitchen, said the victim is a 21-year-old female employee who was slightly shaken up by the experience at the time but is doing fine now.

"She handled it well and was able to give the Sheriff's Office what they needed," Gardella said. "She was just very calm and responsible."

Gardella said the employee told her Olguin placed the knife on the counter and asked for the money. When the employee asked Olguin if he was serious, he replied that he was but wouldn't hurt her, Gardella said.

"It's just disappointing that so much crime has been happening in the community," she said.

This was the first armed robbery at any of the three Candy Kitchen locations - Columbia State Historic Park, The Junction shopping center and Murphys - Gardella said.

But it was the third armed robbery in Tuolumne County since the beginning of August.

On Aug. 12, sheriff's deputies responded to a Columbia mini-mart that had been robbed at gunpoint. The suspect, Matthew Birdsong, 31, a Sonora area transient, fled to a nearby apartment in Columbia where he was later arrested.

Birdsong has since pleaded guilty in Tuolumne County Superior Court to one felony count of armed robbery with an air pistol and faces up to five years in state prison.

On Sept. 4, a man disguised in a fake beard and wig walked into Walmart on Sanguinetti Road in Sonora shortly after opening at 6 a.m., pointed a snub-nosed revolver at an employee and forced his way into a restricted area where he stole cash.

The robber, who has yet to be identified, fled the scene on foot and is currently wanted by Sonora police.

Wilson said the poor economy and high jobless rate are likely contributing factors in the spate of recent robberies.

"All law enforcement agencies see that when things get tough in the economy, people tend to start stealing and being more violent," he said.

The Union Democrat
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