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Highland shop clerk clings to life

Store owner dies in shooting after armed robbery

Staff Writer
March 18, 2005 - HIGHLAND The steel doors rolled down over a neighborhood store Thursday morning, closing a chapter on a heart-wrenching saga in which two men gunned down the benevolent owner and his longtime clerk in cold blood.

Steven Hall, owner of Cee Vee's Liquor and Couch Potato Video at the corner of Palm Avenue at Ninth Street, and clerk Brian Gregorio were gunned down Wednesday night by two armed men.

The robbers entered the store at about 9 p.m., apparently unconcerned about overhead security cameras or shoppers. One robber jumped up on the counter and gave orders to Hall and Gregorio, while the other stood near the door, sheriff's officials said.

The thieves, their faces concealed with bandannas, demanded money and Lotto tickets, which Gregorio handed over. After his accomplice received the cash, the gunman on the counter jumped down and shot Hall in the face and then Gregorio.

The robbers ran out the door and fled in a white car, leaving the two men for dead. A customer called 911, and deputies and medics responded.

Hall, 53, and Gregorio, 25, were taken to Loma Linda University Medical Center. Gregorio was pronounced dead at 1:50 p.m. Thursday. Hall remained in critical condition on life support. Sheriff's officials said he's not expected to live.

"There was no resistance," sheriff's spokesman Chip Patterson said. "They were just shot in cold blood."

Hall, a Highland native, knew nearly everybody in the working-class neighborhood. Those who he hadn't known growing up, he befriended with his wide smile and easygoing nature.

Hall was known to waive late video fees or extend credit to those who were short on cash. He would feed the homeless men who often slept behind his store, greeting them in the morning with a warm breakfast burrito.

As news spread throughout the tight-knit community, an endless stream of customers, friends and family members came to the store. Arms were outstretched and faces were buried on welcoming shoulders. Loved ones shook with grief as sobs erupted from within.

"Not Steve, not Steve," said Ryan Raydon, who has known Hall for 28 years. "Steve was the best."

Sheriff's Community Service Officer Bernice Henley wiped tears from her eyes as she helped secure the crime scene. She said the two men were loved by everyone construction workers, lawyers, business people, locals who made that shop an "everyday stop.'

Longtime customers and friends were appalled by the heinous crime, saying they were sick to their stomachs by such callous disregard for human life.

"I just don't understand why they had to pull the trigger," longtime friend Tim Thompson said. "It doesn't make any sense. They already had the money. It's just wrong. Wrong."

Karen Gaffney, director of the Highland Chamber of Commerce just a few spots down in the Palm Avenue strip mall, said Cee Vee's was more than just a liquor store. It was a community shop where people came for lunch, videos, a soda or friendly conversation.

Gaffney, who frequently dined on Hall's turkey-and-avocado sandwiches, said she was "shocked and dismayed" to learn about the violent crime. It hit too close to home, she said.

"I usually work late until 9 p.m. or so," Gaffney said. "But last night my husband had to work late so I went home around 6 p.m. The Lord works in mysterious ways."

Gaudeucio Huesca said he opened his business, Huesca's Mexican Bakery, two weeks ago in that center. He stood in the parking lot watching sheriff's investigators gather evidence. The violence worried him, Huesca said.

"There are crazy people out there," he said.

Cindy Sedivy, who has known Hall for 18 years, said this was the third time he had been robbed, but he refused to abandon his piece of the American dream.

"They couldn't scare him off," added Connie Thompson, who was among the crowd.

Despite previous threats to his safety, Hall didn't carry a gun, Raydon said. "He trusted everyone, and everyone trusted him."

Mike Johnston, who handles advertiser accounts for Cee Vee's and other area liquor stores, counted the number of liquor store robberies in the area.

Walid Khalil Berril was killed Jan. 25 outside of Highland Liquor on Ninth Street. Berril was beaten and then shot outside his store but the assailants never took anything.

Johnston's other customers at Viva Market on Base Line in Highland were robbed a few weeks ago but were not hurt, he said.

Johnston couldn't help but notice the similarities between Wednesday's robbery at Cee Vee's and one in November at the Valero gas station on Highland Avenue in San Bernardino.

Two men walked into the Valero gas station in the 3500 block of East Highland Avenue armed with handguns and wearing dark, hooded sweatshirts.

They took money and property, then one robber shot 50-year-old clerk Sami Sayah. The two fled on foot. Sayah died at the scene.

"That was just awful," Johnston said of the Valero killing.

Then he looked at the gray door that shuttered Hall's store and shook his head.

"I can't believe this would happen. In the five years I've serviced this place, I've never seen it closed before.",1413,209~22484~2770285,00.html



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