Hot dog baron gets ride of his life

Thieves drag Frank's owner through 5 Points

08/21/2012 12:22 AM

08/21/2012 12:24 AM

Editor's note: This story was originally published Dec. 18, 1997

The 63-year-old owner of Frank's Hot Dogs in Five Points found himself hanging from the side of a speeding getaway car early Wednesday after two men ripped off the tip jar at one of his restaurants.

Frank Barco went for a hair-raising, two-block ride at 3 a.m., reaching speeds up to 50 mph.

Two men peeled out of the parking lot at Lazy Susan's with Barco's glass pickle jar containing the night's gratuities.

Barco was knocked onto the hood of the red, two-door 1991 Toyota Celica when the driver refused to stop, said Mike Jeffcoat, who works with Barco and tried to help stop the thieves.

"One guy came up and his buddy waited in the car," Jeffcoat said. The lanky, 6-foot-3 customer wore a denim shirt over a white T-shirt and jeans. Barco, a Five Points fixture since 1972, is recognizable in his usual uniform: a plain white T-shirt with no pockets and casual pants.

The man ordered fried mushrooms, a chicken sandwich and a corn dog, Jeffcoat said. When he got his food, the customer reached inside the sliding-glass window, grabbed the jar and raced for the Celica.

Barco and Jeffcoat - a 30-year-old former college roommate of Barco's son, Steven - scrambled out of the white, 17-foot-by-8-foot trailer with "Frank's" painted across the top.

"He's getting in the car when I get to him," Jeffcoat said. "I grabbed the door before it shut and pulled it open to where it popped. The guy's hollerin', 'Go! Go! Go!'"

Barco went around the front of the Celica. "He was going to the driver's side just to tell them to give it back and just don't come back," Jeffcoat said.

As they pulled out of the parking lot, "they hit him and knocked him up on the hood . . . all in one motion," Jeffcoat said.

The car jerked onto Harden Street at Greene Street, and Barco slid off the hood.

He couldn't let go because his fingers were pinned by the windshield wiper, Jeffcoat said.

"He's on the side of the car now, hanging by the windshield wiper, and they're up to 30, 40 miles per hour," Jeffcoat said. "I'm out in the street looking at it. They're dragging him with both feet on the ground, and he's hanging on for dear life."

As it happened, police were answering a disturbance call a few doors from where Barco parks his trailer and opens at 9:30 most nights to serve hungry, late-night customers.

"The sergeant looked out at Frank hanging off the side of it, and he says, 'Fellas, look at this,'" Jeffcoat said.

Police took off after the Celica and the merchant who has fed college students and other Five Points customers, including beat cops, for 25 years. They traveled north on Harden in the direction of Blossom Street.

As the Celica approached the intersection of Harden and Blossom streets, it slowed from 50 mph to about 30, Jeffcoat said. "Frank said, 'This is where I'm getting off.'"

Barco had worked his hand loose from the wiper and rolled off the car onto the pavement at Hiller Hardware.

"The soles of his shoes were rubbed down," Steven Barco said. "He said, 'I had to let go; my feet were getting hot.'

"He said the cops that were chasing almost hit him," the son said. "He told me there were three - two pursued them, and the third stopped and asked if he was all right."

The Celica pulled over for the cops.

Brandon Chase Sternenberg, 20, of 1120 Shirley St., and Gregory Ross, 18, of 1305 Gladden St., are charged with assault and battery with intent to kill and strong-arm robbery.

Barco is "just banged up," his wife, Peggy, said. "It could have been a lot worse. He's a tough cookie. Even though he's short and stocky, he's awfully strong."

Barco was tough enough to go to court Wednesday morning, bruised and with holes in his shirt and pants, to see Sternenberg and Ross answer to a judge.

Both were in the Richland County jail Wednesday night under $30,000 surety bonds.

Barco would not go to the hospital until he saw them in court.

All this was over a jar with about $20 in tips, and the police got that back.

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