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Lawrence store owner uses bat to stop intruder

Man says thief gave him no choice

Avelino Fernandez and his girlfriend, Gina Burgos, greeted Richard DeMatteo Tuesday, a day after Fernandez fended off a would-be thief who broke into his store.

Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

Avelino Fernandez and his girlfriend, Gina Burgos, greeted Richard DeMatteo Tuesday, a day after Fernandez fended off a would-be thief who broke into his store.

LAWRENCE — Avelino Fernandez said he had no choice but to beat a man with a steel baseball bat after the man allegedly broke into Fernandez’s grocery store and began swinging a broom at him.

“I hope that the man is OK,’’ Fernandez said in an interview conducted in Spanish Tuesday. “But at the moment, I felt like I had to do what was right, and that was to protect my store and my children.’’

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On Monday, Fernandez had been sleeping in the back of his Essex Street grocery store, as he has every night since March 5, when a different man broke into the store.

“I stay here because by the time police come, the robber would have already taken everything that I’ve worked so hard for,’’ Fernandez said. “It’s easier for me to just protect my store.’’

Police Chief John Romero said he does not recommend that store owners confront intruders.

“We don’t want to see anybody hurt,’’ Romero said, “so we always advise people to call police. That doesn’t always happen, like in this case.’’

According to accounts from Fernandez and Lawrence police, at around 5 a.m., Fernandez heard the sound of glass breaking and saw a man standing near the cash register.

‘I hope the man is OK. . . . But at the moment, I felt like I had to do what was right, and that was to protect my store and my children.’

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Fernandez then grabbed a bat and approached the man, who began swinging a broom in an ­attempt to hit Fernandez. That is when Fernandez struck the intruder, who fell to the ground and struggled to get up.

According to the police report, the man struck by Fernandez was Douglas Ragonese, 38. Police said Fernandez hit Ragonese between three to five times while Fernandez’s 13-year-old son called ­police.

Romero said detectives have not found any evidence that contradicts Fernandez’s ­account of the episode and are in the process of reviewing surveillance camera footage.

“If this guy was attacking him with a stick and he was using a bat to defend himself, that is within his rights,” Romero said.

On Tuesday, Ragonese was listed in critical condition at Lawrence General Hospital. ­Police said they were told by medical personnel that ­Ragonese had a skull fracture, and the ­police report indicates he also has a broken ankle.

When police searched his clothing, officers allegedly found $36 in cash, a check made out to Fernandez, and several receipts from Fernandez’s store in his pockets.

Ragonese was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony, and destruction of property.

While Fernandez says he has been targeted twice, other business owners on the street lined with other markets and specialty stores said they have not had any problems.

Juan Martinez — manager at Essex Street Market, which is a block away from Fernandez’s shop — said that in the six years he has been in the area, he has not encountered any problems and feels very safe.

“I would never sleep here,” Martinez said. “I would let the police handle it. I have to sleep in the comfort of my own bed and home.”

For Fernandez, the security of his belongings and his family is his priority, he said. He opened Fernandez Market, which includes a meat counter and is stocked with a variety of Goya products, in December. Fernandez, who immigrated to the United States from the ­Dominican Republic 11 years ago, said that since the last break-in, he is unwilling to leave his store unattended.

Fernandez said that in March, he just happened to be spending the night at his store when someone broke the glass in the front door.

According to police reports, Fernandez chased and caught the would-be intruder.

In Monday’s break-in, ­Fernandez said he would not have attacked if the intruder had been calm.

“If he had just stayed still and not done anything after I told him not to move, that would have been the end of it,” Fernandez said.

Alejandra Matos can be reached at alejandra.matos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amatos12.
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