'Ms. Starbuck' Witnesses Coffeeshop Robbery

Lee Starbuck, no relation to the famous chain, was at a Starbucks in Laguna Niguel a week ago today when the store was robbed.

A Laguna Niguel woman’s spontaneous trip to Starbucks turned life-threatening last week when she found herself standing next to an armed robber.

Lee Starbuck, 71, had decided to treat herself to a special cup of coffee at the Starbucks at 30211 Golden Lantern St., something she rarely does.

Starbuck said her car was in repair and she decided to walk to the center and grab a cup at Subway. However, the store was closed so she went in to the Starbucks a few doors down.

"Subway stops selling coffee at 11 a.m., so  I decided to treat myself to Starbucks," she said. "It's expensive, so I never go, but I only live a few blocks away and I decided to walk to the center."

She entered the store, where about 10 others were either ordering or already eating and drinking, and ordered a cinnamon roll and a caramel latte frappe.

"I asked if they would heat the roll, then I went and waited in one of the two leather chairs by the front door," she said.

When an employee called, "cinnamon roll," Starbuck went to the counter. That's when she knew something was wrong, she said.

" said Starbuck. "I didn't expect it. I actually thought the store was having a gas leak and he was heading back to the kitchen."

But then she saw the gun, "which looked pretty big," by his side and pointed toward the floor.

"He didn't have his arm raised and I heard him say, 'I don't want to hurt anyone,' ” Starbuck said. "He had the gun to his side and it was visible to the girl behind the counter and I saw it, too. It was then I knew this was real."

"Just stay where you are," an employee warned Starbuck.

"I was in front of him across the counter, about 5' feet away. Because he was focused on the cash register, he did not seem to notice me so when I realized this was a real robbery, I moved to my right where I was blocked by the sweets display," she said. "Had I startled him, he could have easily moved the gun toward me and shot. This is when I feel very blessed to know that I escaped a dangerous situation. I am so grateful that they caught him so he can not terrorize any others." 

Starbuck said she didn't see the alleged robber get the cash, but later learned from a manager that it was "around $300."

"The man sitting next to me in the other leather chair said he never saw a thing after I told him we had just been robbed," she said.

Starbuck said deputies arrived and questioned the guests, including herself. She told authorities her account of what happened along with a short description since he was wearing a mask. All she saw was dark hair, that the person was a man, about 6' feet tall and wearing dark clothing.

"It was odd that they didn't ask me about my name after I told them," she said. "At one time, before Starbucks came to the California market, it was an unusual name, not anymore."

Starbuck said after she divorced, she returned to the maiden name, which originates from her "English ancestors who were in the whaling business." She has no relation to the famous coffee chain.

Starbuck said she did not panic nor felt scared at the time, because it all happened so quickly. However, later that day she did feel "edgy and snapped at her daughter."

As for where her next cup of coffee will be? She's headed back to her favorite, 7-Eleven where they "stamp your card and after five visits, you get the next one free."

She did go back to the Starbucks the next day to find jout ust what had happened further, and they comped her coffee, she said.

Police later arrested on suspicion of robbing the coffeeshop. Starner was taken into custody in Laguna Beach after he was spotted walking around town in an "extremely intoxicated" state and carrying a gas mask, Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino said.

This week he pleaded not guilty to four felony counts of robbery and burglary related to recent holdups at a local Starbucks and a Swirlz yogurt shop. 

Debbie L. Sklar December 07, 2012 at 05:00 PM
What an amazing story of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Tony Busko December 07, 2012 at 08:19 PM
It's not a lovely experience to say the least. I was involved in a robbery at a small family owned computer store many years ago. I was there with my mom when it happened. Three guys came in and when I saw them, I sensed something was off...told my mom to follow me...I turn around and the one guy had a gun pointed at the manager and tells everyone to get down on the floor. They tied us up and asked for all our possession and stuff. While one guy took the receptionist where the video camera was, we heard a gunshot...some people screamed and then the manager told the guys that they should leave because that triggers the alarm and Devonshire PD is around the corner. They started yelling at each other to hurry up and I thought that was it...but they vacated the store and ran. The manager went behind the desk, grabbed his shotgun.and went after them. But they were long gone.


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