By Tim Yovich
A bullet was recovered from the wounded man’s jaw.
WARREN — Customers patronized Freddie’s Diner on the north side because of the family atmosphere, an eatery where the owners and their help knew what folks wanted before ordering.
“It didn’t feel like a restaurant; it felt like a home,” said longtime customer David Lee Morgan Sr. of Ivanhoe Street, around the corner from Freddie’s on North Park Avenue.
But that home-style atmosphere was wrecked mid-Tuesday morning when a robber shot and killed the owner, 89-year-old Fred A. DeVengencie of Westwood Street, and seriously wounded his 71-year-old son and co-operator, Anthony DeVengencie, of Youngtown-Niles Road.
The city police SWAT team surrounded a four-plex on North Park near Atlantic Street and entered the structure about 2 p.m. But the search for a suspect there was fruitless.
Capt. Tim Roberts and Detective Wayne Mackey said it was the department’s police dog that led police from the diner to the four-plex a few blocks away.
Mackey said the DeVengencies were in the diner with two employees when a man entered through the side kitchen door. There were no customers inside shortly before 9 a.m.
The shooter took money from the register and employees, and then went to the safe on the opposite side of the brick building that also houses the family-operated Sons of Italy Lodge 2356.
Mackey said there was apparently a scuffle and the robber suffered a laceration of the head. Shots were fired.
Anthony DeVengencie was first taken to Forum Health Trumbull Memorial Hospital and then to St. Elizabeth Health Center, where he remains in critical condition after surgery.
A bullet struck Anthony DeVengencie in the hand, as if defending himself, and into the face, coming to rest in his jaw, said his son, Anthony DeVengencie Jr.
Fred DeVengencie’s body was found at the entrance of the opposite side door where the safe was located. His wounded son was in the same area.
Patrons said that the lodge sold rip tickets and the safe normally contained money from the gaming and the restaurant.
Police combed the parking area for blood, but apparently didn’t find any.
A burned spoon with a syringe used to administer drugs could be seen in the lot. The police dog and handler were also working the area to the rear of houses along Forest Street adjacent to the parking lot.
One detective searched the roof of the diner at 1125 N. Park to determine if anything may have been thrown onto it; nothing was found.
Police said it’s thought that the shooter fled across the parking area and into the back of houses along Forest.
“They have a couple of good leads they’re going to work,” one officer said.
Mackey explained that it hasn’t been determined if the safe was opened. He noted that no firearms were found in the building.
Asked if the robber may have shot the DeVengencies with their own gun, Mackey said crime scene investigators will determine that.
Mackey termed the daylight robbery and shooting as “kind of bold.”
The DeVengencies “were definitely surprised,” he added.
Joyce Turrill, a Lodge 2356 bartender, said the restaurant opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 3 p.m. The social club opens at 10 a.m. and closes about 11 p.m.
“The restaurant always has customers in it,” Turrill said, expressing surprise that there weren’t any inside when the shots rang out.
A Forest resident said the neighborhood has been peaceful, although the front window of the diner was broken as the result of an attempted burglary.
“It’s been a nice, quiet area,” said Ramona Thornton, who has lived on Forest with her family since February. She noted that she didn’t hear any shots fired.
The diner has “been an anchor on the north end for years,” said Mayor Michael J. O’Brien, who was at the scene.
“It’s a tragic set of circumstances,” the mayor added, noting he has known the family for years.
O’Brien said the city has had similar cases and some, if not all, have been drug-related.
“He was a figure in this town all of his life,” said Alfred DeVengencie, a family member and superintendent of maintenance for the county.
Alfred DeVengencie credited Fred DeVengencie’s longevity to working all his life, which included taking lunch to his wife, Sue, every day.