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Citizen drives off junior muggers

Police catch up with the pair, 12 and 13, at a nearby restaurant

A quick-thinking citizen armed only with his car keys foiled a pair of underage robbers carrying a knife last Tuesday. The incident occurred at 7:50 p.m., at an automatic teller outside the Bank of America branch at 8315 SE Sunnyside Road, in Clackamas.

'I was there because I had to pull money out of one account and put it into another account,' said Danny M. Ottenbacher, a computer systems engineer. 'I had my wallet out, and I set it on the ATM. I had just pulled out my cash, and I was filling out the deposit slip when I heard a voice behind me say, 'Stop! Give me your f-ing money!''

Turning around, Ottenbacher spotted two black youths, about 20 feet away.

'They ran towards me until they were about two feet away, and then one of them said, 'I'm not kidding! Give me your f-ing money!'' he said.

One of the robbers showed Ottenbacher a silver knife with a three-inch folding blade.

'I grabbed my wallet, and then I reached into my coat pocket to get my keys, which was the only thing I had on me that I could use as a defensive weapon,' said Ottenbacher.

Seeing his assailants eyes go wide, Ottenbacher realized that he could turn the situation to his advantage. Lifting his hand inside his pocket like he was holding a pistol, he advanced on the pair.

'I was very forceful with my voice, and I told them to get the hell out of there,' he said. 'They turned and ran away, and one of them yelled back at me that they were just kidding. When you're showing around a knife, you're not 'just kidding.''

Ottenbacher retrieved his cell phone from his car and dialed 9-1-1. When deputies from the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office arrived moments later, he told them that they had headed off in the direction of a nearby McDonald's restaurant.

'They were getting really mouthy,' said Detective Jim Strovink, the public information officer for the sheriff's office.

The pair apparently demanded free food, drawing further attention to themselves even as the police were approaching.

'When the deputies saw these two individuals, they brought over Mr. Ottenbacher, who was able to positively identify them,' Strovink said.

Police arrested the pair, charging them with first degree robbery, a Measure 11 offense. Ages 12 and 13, they were transferred to the Donald E. Long school, a youth correctional facility in Portland. Both offered what Strovink characterized as 'substantial statements' to detectives. The knife was also found and taken into evidence.

'I was shocked when the officers came back and told me that they were 12 and 13,' recalled Ottenbacher. 'Back when the police first interviewed me, I told them that they were probably about 15.

'I definitely got the feeling that they hadn't done this before - that they were testing the waters to see what they could get away with.'

According to Strovink, the situation could have come to a very different ending, were it not for a quirk of fate. A former reserve officer for the Portland Police Bureau and the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, Ottenbacher has a concealed weapons permit for a .45 caliber automatic handgun.

'Unfortunately, or maybe it was fortunately, he was not armed at the time of the robbery, which he usually is,' said Strovink.

Owing to their underage status, the youths will face prosecution in Multnomah County, where they live, rather than Clackamas County, where the crime occurred. For adults, first degree robbery carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 90 months in prison, although judges in the juvenile justice system are given much greater flexibility in determining penalties.

Strovink, previously assigned as a robbery detective, said that this was an extremely rare situation.

'This is an isolated case, where you have children committing this type of horrendous act,' he said. 'Nationwide, there are the beginnings of a trend, of individuals this age becoming involved in robberies, particularly in urban settings.

'In Los Angeles, for example, something like this could be used for indoctrination into gang membership, but we're not seeing anything like that happening up here.'

For his part, Ottenbacher was pleased with the outcome.

'I'm glad I didn't just hand them the money,' he said. 'If I had, they would have probably thought, 'Wow, that's easy' and tried to do it again. Now, maybe they will think twice next time.'