Denise Rust arrived for her scheduled shift at the Soldotna Subway at 10:30 on Wednesday morning, just as both managers were leaving for the day. Rust, 18, hardly had time to settle into the workday before a customer strolled through the door minutes later.
"I saw him walk in and he had the thing over his face," she recalled. "I didn't think much of it at the time."
What Rust didn't know was that the forgettable customer would soon transform into something far more sinisiter: an armed robber on a spree of sorts, who in short order would rob the Subway, allegedly pull an identical stunt at a coffee hut Thursday afternoon, and wind up arrested just as Thursday started to slip into Friday.
Rust first realized something was amiss when the man skipped the "Order Here" end of the counter and bee-lined straight to the "Pay Here" side where her coworker Ariel Anderson was stationed.
"When he walked up and started talking to her (Anderson) and she opened the cash register, I knew something was going on," Rust said. "I thought it was a joke at first, but it wasn't."
The man kept his head down and opened his jacket to reveal what Anderson, 23, later described as "the handle and back of a squarish-looking handgun." He then demanded quietly -- so quietly that Rust, who was standing only feet away, could not decipher the words -- that Anderson give him all of the money in the register. She complied, removing the bills from each denomination slot and handing the wad of what she estimated to be about $200 in cash to the man across the counter.
Meanwhile, Rust could only look on in confusion.
"I just kind of froze," she said. "I was standing there with cookie trays in my hand. I froze and stared and didn't move or anything."
The whole ordeal spanned only a couple of minutes. Once he had what he wanted, the man high-tailed it out of the store, turning left as he exited, and made his way through the Peninsula Center Mall parking lot.
"I was right across the street when they called and told me they were robbed," said James Ulricksen, one of the Subway managers who had only just left the building. "I was like, 'Yeah, OK. Sure,' and they were like, 'No, seriously. We were.'"
Ulricksen rushed over and arrived just as the police were pulling into the parking lot to respond to the 911 call.
A day later, the Soldotna Police Department arrested David K. Lawrence of Soldotna as a suspect in the case. Lawrence, 26, is also believed to be responsible for a subsequent armed robbery that occurred Thursday afternoon at the Java Junction Too coffee hut in Soldotna, where a man matching the description of the Subway robber revealed a handgun to the female employee on duty and climbed through the drive-up window to grab approximately $140 in cash from the register.
Iris Shangin, the sole barista in the tiny coffee establishment at the time, called 911 immediately and informed police of the situation. Shangin, 20, told responding officer Marvin Towell that she last saw the man running behind the Regal Foods bakery and toward an apartment complex on Tern Circle called Kenai River Suites, which is about a 1- to 2-minute walk from the Java Junction.
"We spoke to most -- if not all -- of the occupants that were in the complex," Sgt. Duane Kant said of the ensuing investigation.
During the canvassing of the apartment complex, one of the residents was identified as the building's assistant manager, Vicki Snow. Officers informed Snow, 51, of the incident and asked if she knew anyone in the complex who matched the description they provided her with.
According to the affidavit written by Sgt. Robbie Quelland, Snow became "noticeably upset" when informed of the description and said that a man named David Lawrence was living in apartment No. 1 with his fiance, who happened to be Snow's daughter.
The document attests that "Vicki Snow said the description matched Lawrence," but this is a matter that she contests.
"I said there's a lot of people who fit that description that they gave me," Snow said. "I did not say anything specific about anyone in the building and I told them about everyone."
Regardless, at 9:15 p.m. officers obtained a State of Alaska photographic line-up of David Lawrence. Six photographs, including Lawrence's, were pulled from the Alaska Public Safety Information Network, all depicting men of similar age, weight, height, and other physical characteristics.
Quelland said that when shown the photographic line-up at the Soldotna Police Department, Anderson and Shangin identified Lawrence as the man who had robbed them "with little or no hesitation."
A search warrant was served at Lawrence's residence at 9:45, where clothes matching those the robber donned on the pulled Subway surveillance video were found. Kant also confirmed officers located a gun during the search.
"We found what we believed to be the weapon," Kant said, "but I'm still not ready to speak about that as far as what kind of weapon it was."
After the search ended, Lawrence was taken down to the police department for questioning and subsequently arrested at about 11:30 p.m. He was formally charged with two felony counts of robbery with a deadly weapon during his arraignment on Friday morning, and is currently being held at Wildwood Pre-Trial Facility without bail.
In September 2009, Lawrence had nine charges filed against him ranging from misdemeanor theft to felony forgery and burglary. Ultimately eight of the nine charges were dropped, and Lawrence was only convicted of felony burglary in a dwelling. He was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $4,162, put on probation for three years, and ordered to follow many strict rules including not having a concealed weapon or firearm. That case was reopened Friday with a petition to revoke probation.
Despite his past record, however, Lawrence's future mother-in-law insisted her daughter's fiance is innocent.
"I believe they have the wrong person," she said emphatically. "This is crazy. I think they needed to catch somebody to calm the city down, but I don't think they caught the right person."
Lawrence's pre-indictment hearing is set for 4 p.m. on Jan. 24 at the Kenai Courthouse.
Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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