By Patrick Yost editor
A 71-year-old Buckhead convenience store owner forced a suspected armed robber out of her store at gunpoint last Thursday morning. Janet Willis, owner of Buckhead Grocery on Seven Islands Road, said 21-year-old Prince William Dennis entered her store at approximately 5 a.m. Willis said Dennis demanded the keys to Willis’ vehicle, which was parked in front of the store. “He said, ‘I want your car,’ I said, ‘so do I.’” Willis said she pressed a “panic button” under a counter at the store and the man saw her and became agitated and forceful. “He said ‘I have killed my mother, then he mumbled something and said he had stolen a van and he was going to kill me if I didn’t give him the keys.” Willis said the man followed her while she went to retrieve the car keys.
A customer in the store came out of the bathroom, she said, and Dennis turned to look at the customer. “I knew he was getting perturbed and I was afraid he was going to jump me,” the 5’1” Willis said. While Dennis’ was turned Willis grabbed a 9mm pistol she keeps at the store. “When he turned around I said ‘I’ll blow your guts all over this store.’” “Then I led him out.” Willis said she kept the gun pointed at Dennis as he rushed out of the store. He then, reports state, got into a 2008 Chevrolet Uplander with a flat rear tire and left, driving on Parks Mill Road until sparks from the vehicle’s rim caught the Uplander on fire. The Uplander had been reported stolen out of Columbia County, reports state. Dennis then went to a residence on Parks Mill Road, knocked on the door and asked for help.
According to reports, a man said he transported Dennis to the Buckhead Chevron (Pit Stop) where he then acquired a ride to Madison’s exit 113. Lt. Derrick Roland, Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, observed Dennis standing outside of the Chevron Convenience Store, Eatonton Highway and detained Dennis. The Uplander was consumed by fire, reports state. Morgan County fire personnel were called to extinguish the fire, reports state. Captain Chris Bish, Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, praised Willis for protecting herself. “I admire her for doing what she did to thwart the robbery,” he said. “I’m grateful for the outcome.” “Fortunately in this case he was not armed and her response forced him to flee. Dennis remains incarcerated and has been charged with armed robbery. Willis said this was not the first time she has had to confront violence. More than 30 years ago when she was working in a grocery store in Covington a man became belligerent and threatened her. Willis said she learned from that experience. “You have to stay calm. If you stay calm, they stay calm. If you get upset, they get upset.” The man in Covington forced her against a cash register, she said. In that case Willis said she pulled out a Colt. .45 caliber pistol and pointed it at the aggressor. “I asked him, do you want this (the pistol) or do you want the door. He chose the door,” she said.