PORTAGE PATHWAYS: Flat tire, sly deputy foiled 1938 bandits in Paris

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When five would-be bandits decided to attempt a shoot-em-up robbery in Paris Township on a Sunday night 75 years ago, they didn't reckon with a quick-witted deputy sheriff foiling their getaway.

Not to mention the flat tire that led him directly to the suspects.

Or the ignition key he "accidentally" broke while "helping" them fix their tire.

That's the combination of circumstances that made front-page headlines in the Evening Record on Feb. 14, 1938, and turned Deputy Sheriff Roger Gray into a local hero for single-handedly capturing five young men from the Youngstown area who terrorized the owners of a mom-and-pop grocery store and beer parlor.

Mrs. Adam Simon, who ran the store with her husband, was on duty when four of the youths -- ranging in age from 17 to 26 -- entered it at about 9:30 p.m. They left, noticing other customers there.Two of the men -- Joe Yash and Joe Turocey -- returned when Mrs. Simon was alone in the store.

Yash accosted her with a .32-caliber automatic. Turocey vaulted the counter and fled with $12 from the cash register -- not much money today, but $189 in post-Depression era dollars, most likely the day's entire receipts.

Mrs. Simon screamed and ran toward the rear of the store, followed by Yash. She closed the door on him, barring it with her foot, and he fired a shot through it. The bullet was deflected by a brass plate above the lock. More shots were fired, with a second lodging near the bar.

Adam Simon, who responded to his wife's screams, caught sight of the pair and the getaway car. As the five left, he telephoned the Portage County sheriff's office in Ravenna.

Deputy Sheriff Gray was the only man on duty. Sheriff Robert Fitzgerald and Deputy Carroll Ruben had been called to another incident in Deerfield.

Gray headed toward Paris along S.R. 5, hoping to head off the bandits. Passing through Charlestown, he spotted a car surrounded by five young men working frantically to change a flat tire.

He didn't stop. Assuming it would take them awhile to fix the flat, he traveled to the Simon residence in Paris to get a better description of the suspects. They were still working on the tire when he returned a few minutes later.

The deputy, who presumably was traveling in an unmarked car, offered his assistance. Two of the men were working on the car, two were standing near it, and the fifth was in a field nearby.

"I knew there were two guns in the group, but I didn't know who had them," Gray told the Evening Record. "They were never in a group while they were around the car and I knew if I tried to make an arrest then I couldn't get all of them."

The deputy continued his Good Samaritan act. As he walked around the rear of the car, he noticed a key in the ignition lock that had been used to unlock the spare tire. He stepped on the key and broke it off evenly.

Once the tire was changed, the five noticed the ignition key was broken, making it impossible to start their car.

"So Gray very kindly offered to aid them in pushing their car," the Record reported. They pushed it to a filling station and general store in Charlestown owned by V.G. Sly, with the deputy assuring the five that they could get a new key there or telephone a garage for help.

As they entered the store, Gray drew his gun on the five and herded them into the back room while Sly phoned the sheriff.

Sheriff Fitzgerald and Deputy Ruben arrived and took the young bandits into custody. Gray never fired a shot.

Four of the suspects were charged with armed robbery and shooting with intent to kill. The 17-year-old was taken into custody as a juvenile. Authorities in Youngstown said the band was linked to eight other holdups there.

Gray's single-handed feat made him a local celebrity, but when the Evening Record asked what had worried him most during his encounter with the five, he responded with a more practical concern -- one that explained why he traveled on to the Simon store in Paris after passing the disabled car.

"They might have been the wrong parties," he said, "and I would hate to pull a gun on an innocent victim."

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