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Shot 10 times, restaurateur survives 9 hours of surgery

By AMY HERDY and TIM GRANT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2000


TAMPA -- Two former employees barged into a Carrollwood restaurant Saturday, turned their guns on co-owner Mike Robie and shot him 10 times, detectives said.

One bullet lodged so close to his spine that his family considers it a miracle that he may walk again.

Despite the onslaught, Robie, 36, survived the attack and nine hours of surgery. By Monday afternoon, he was taken off a ventilator and was breathing on his own, though he remained in critical condition.

He was even able to talk briefly to his family gathered around his hospital bed.

"He said, "I love you,' " recalled sister Valerie Dannals. While Robie's condition improved Monday, authorities and acquaintances were left wondering what may have driven the two men charged in that attack and the murder of a pizza delivery man, which officials said were clearly premeditated acts of violence.

Earl "E.J." Hinson III, 21, and Harold L. Wolf, 27, two friends from upscale suburbs who drifted from one blue-collar job to another, were arraigned Monday on charges that included first-degree murder, attempted murder, armed robbery and attempted kidnapping. Both were being held without bail Monday night at the Hillsborough County Jail.

The families of Hinson of 17705 Simms Road in Odessa and Wolf of 5404 Aragon Court in Carrollwood did not respond to requests for interviews.

The Loop Pizza Grill co-owner Tom McHale said Robie bought into the restaurant in January and never worked with the two suspects. While both Hinson and Wolf worked briefly at the Loop before leaving in February 1999, McHale said, neither one had been fired.

"We're totally puzzled as to the motive" of the attack, he said.

Another former employer said Wolf seemed frustrated.

"He was bouncing from one pizza joint to another, always hoping one would be better than the next, but in the end, they were all the same," said Bill Henry, owner of Windy City Pizza, located about a block away from the Loop.

Morgan Zuch, 18, worked with both Hinson and Wolf at the Loop and at another restaurant, Villazo Pizza in Citrus Park Town Center.

Since leaving the Loop, Zuch said, "Harold had kind of a grudge" against the restaurant.

Still, she had difficulty believing Wolf, whom she described as "quiet and sweet," could turn violent.

"I would never in a million years expect him to do something like that."

There was a certain plodding intent to the pair's rampage, officials said. They said Hinson and Wolf bought ammunition for their .22- and .38-caliber handguns Friday afternoon.

Henry said about 10:45 p.m. Friday, Hinson and Wolf called Windy City Pizza and placed a bogus order for delivery to what detectives later told Henry was Hinson's childhood telephone number and address on Wolcott Drive in Carrollwood Village.

About 30 minutes later, Eduardo Natal, 23, arrived for his second-to-last delivery of the night. Hinson and Wolf were waiting and robbed Natal of his wallet, his car and two pizzas, said sheriff's spokesman Rod Reder. Natal's body was found the next morning in a driveway by a passer-by. Hinson later admitted firing one shot into Natal's head, Reder said.

Shortly after 8 a.m. Saturday, deputies said, Hinson and Wolf entered the Loop, which was not yet open, by a side door and forced a 16-year-old female employee into the cooler before demanding money from Robie.

Before he could comply, records show, Wolf began shooting at Robie in the restaurant's small office with the .38.

Hinson then traded places with Wolf and fired one shot at Robie, officials said.

Then Wolf took Hinson's .22, pointed it at the girl and pulled the trigger, but the gun had run out of ammunition, authorities said. The two men then fled without any money, and each was arrested later at their parents' homes after the girl identified Hinson from a sheriff's photo pack.

The girl, who was not hurt, was described by Robie's family Monday as being calm and composed. Former coaches and friends called Hinson a model student and co-worker, but he had already shown signs of trouble.

In April of 1998 he was charged with grand theft after his employer at the time, Jumbo Sports on W Hillsborough Avenue, accused him of stealing $398 worth of sunglasses and tennis shoes.

According to records, Tampa police also questioned Hinson about a handgun in his truck. He told police he had bought the gun from someone at a basketball court in Tampa Palms.

Henry noted the irony of Natal's death.

"He came here because he was genuinely concerned about the escalating violence in Brazil," Henry said. Family members are working to return Natal's body to Brazil for burial. He had been in the country less than a year, Henry said.

Monday afternoon, Robie's family was sending thanks to the paramedics, nurses and surgeons who helped save his life. Family members are convinced that Robie survived the gunshots because he was strong and in excellent physical condition from working out every day.

As for the two men who shot her brother, Valerie Dannals said: "I think they just went on a rampage. Those fellows were out to do some evil for some reason."

- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3474 or herdy@sptimes.com. Tim Grant can be reached at (813) 226-3471 or grant@sptimes.com.

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