Mugging victim warns of daylight attacks

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 22, 2002

Frank Whitaker talks near the spot where he was robbed Wednesday afternoon in the north parking garage of Harrah’s Casino.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[02/21/02]Mugged on Wednesday, Frank Whitaker said people need to know such attacks are happening in broad daylight and take steps to protect themselves.

Whitaker, 73, said he was leaving Harrah’s Vicksburg Casino and Hotel about 2:30 p.m. when he was struck from the rear and his wallet was taken.

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“I had parked at the north end of the first level of the parking garage … and I was halfway up when someone hit me from the rear and I turned,” Whitaker said.

As he turned, he said, his assailant had his hand in Whitaker’s pocket, taking his wallet.

“At the same time, he said Give me that wallet’ with a smirk on his face,” Whitaker said.

Shouts brought help from men doing survey work nearby, one of whom stood by where Whitaker’s wallet was dropped. Another man chased the robber.

Police arrested a man three blocks away. Charged with robbery was Eugene P. Heath, 41, 780 U.S. 61 North.

“It turned out all right,” Whitaker said. “I did get my wallet back.”

But, Whitaker said, “People need to be made aware of how dangerous these parking lots and garages are,” he said.

While police incident reports show holdups in the parking areas of all four casinos, all do have security officers and cameras. A Harrah’s official said Whitaker’s experience was the first this year.

Still, Whitaker said he will use valet parking in the future and advised others to do the same.

“There’s not enough security,” he said, “if you can yell in the middle of the afternoon and not get any response from anybody.”

Kurt Rushing, assistant marketing director for Harrah’s, said the company patrols both of its garages. “At the particular time he (Whitaker) was approached, the security personnel was patrolling the south garage.”

Rushing also said a valet attendant called security and police.

Deputy Chief of Police Richard O’Bannon said he is aware of incidents happening at the parking garages and in the parking lots of the local casinos but he said he did not know how many there have been.

“That would be hard for me to say because we really haven’t run the stats,” O’Bannon said.

But, he said, as recently as Wednesday police met with people at all four casinos to discuss security and how each entity can help the other.

Also, he said, “A lot of it gets back to individuals being aware of their surroundings and taking proper precautions.”

One of those precautions,

All four of the local casinos offer valet parking.

“It only costs $1 and all you have to do is hold out 20 nickels and $1 is not much to pay for safety,” O’Bannon said.