A MACHETE-wielding masked man terrified a newspaper delivery driver during a robbery attempt in Bangalow in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Steve Dengate said he had taken the first trolley load of papers into Bangalow Newsagency in Byron Street at 3.45am and was doing some paperwork in the shop when a tall figure in a hoodie ‘appeared out of nowhere’ behind him, threatened him with a long, pointed and ‘brand new’ machete and demanded cash.
The robber made a bungled attempt to tie Mr Dengate’s hands with cable ties but he became enraged when Mr Dengate told him that he didn’t have keys to the safe and there was no money hidden on the premises.
The thief hacked savagely at telephone cables on the shop’s counter, before grabbing several soft-drinks and demanding Mr Dengate’s mobile phone.
When Mr Dengate said that it was in his car across the road, the agitated crook told him to go and get it.
Mr Dengate walked across Byron St to his car, believing that the man was following him.
When he got to his car he turned around and saw the man was still standing on the opposite pavement, outside the newsagency.
Mr Dengate said he thought to himself, ‘that’s good enough for me’, jumped into his car, released the handbrake and started to roll down the hill, quickly putting his key in the ignition and starting the engine.
He couldn’t believe his luck, but relief quickly turned to anger and he turned around and drove up and down the street four or five times times hoping to see his attacker and give chase.
Sam Brenko, whose family owns the boutique store Island Luxe in Bangalow that was burgled of nearly $200,000 worth of designer men’s clothing last week, had been checking on the store at the same time as the robbery attempt.
When he saw Mr Dengate driving around he became suspicious and rang police.
Both men thought the other was somehow involved in the crime, and both were speaking to 000 operators at the same time.
Meanwhile, Sam’s father, John, in another car, spotted a small silver sedan that was driving slowly along Deacon Street with its lights out and followed it. The car sped off, but did a ‘mad U -turn’ at the Ballina turnoff and drove straight back on the wrong side of the road towards Mr Brenko, who was forced to swerve aside.
It then turned again and took off down the Pacific Highway towards Ballina. Police later found the car abandoned at Ballina. It had been stolen, they said.
The shop invader is described as being aged in his 20s or 30s, 185cm tall and of slim build. He has black hair and was of mixed race appearance, according to police.
He was wearing a hoodie and had his face covered with a kind of mesh mask.
Mr Dengate has been doing the job for five years. He said he believed his 14 years in the Army had helped him to remain calm during his 15-minute ordeal, in which the man followed him closely with the machete raised above his head.
“I’m not normally a scared person,” he said, “but I was terrified. At the same time I was seething that I was so powerless.
“I didn’t hear anything and I don’t know where he came from. He must have been hiding somewhere.”
Richard Rombouts, who co-owns the newsagency with his partner Caroline Adams, said he had not experienced anything like this before and was shocked that it should happen in such a peaceful community.
He said that at the same time last year there had been a series of burglaries in the town and that it was something of a ‘seasonal event’.
As well as Bangalow’s residents missing out on their morning papers, he said the incident hit all their sub agents ‘down the line’, and meant there would be no newspapers delivered that morning.
Mr Dengate said he was impressed with the response time of the police who were there within 10-15 minutes.
Police have asked for anyone with information to call Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000.