Friday, June 29, 2007

Retired Marine Defends Himself in Florida

Retired Marine is top gun at sub shop

The night started like many for John Lovell, a 71-year-old ex-Marine and helicopter pilot who served two presidents. Late dinner alone at a Plantation Subway shop -- veggie sub, soda, oatmeal cookie.

Wednesday night, though, Lovell's meal was interrupted by an armed robbery. Two gunmen stormed into the sandwich shop at about 11 p.m., robbed the cashier and tried to shove Lovell -- the lone customer -- into the bathroom. Two bullets later, one gunman was dead, another was wounded and Lovell was being hailed as a hero.

''There's no such thing as an ex-Marine, and he typifies this,'' said longtime friend Wesley White.

''What he did last night was unbelievable Samaritan spirit,'' said shop owner Khalid Malik.

Lovell already was a great customer at the Jacaranda Square Subway, Malik said: He comes by almost every night, slides into a back booth and orders the six-inch veggie sub, cookie and soft drink. But now, said Malik, ``I love him a lot more.''

No one could find Lovell on Thursday. But when he shows up again, Malik said, the hero will have free heroes at the shop for life.

The Subway video surveillance cameras, which the owner had installed only a week ago -- ''just to be on the safe side'' -- caught the whole drama.

The robbers got Lovell's money. But Lovell, who neighbors and friends say is in tiptop shape and looks years younger than he really is, pulled out his handgun and shot both in the head.

Donicio Arrindell, 22, of North Lauderdale died. Fredrick Gadson, 21, of Fort Lauderdale, was critically wounded.

The front window was blown out and cash strewn around the shop.

''There were fives and rolls of coins everywhere,'' said Detective Robert Rettig of the Plantation Police Department.

Rettig said Lovell, who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, is not expected to be charged. ''He was in fear for his life,'' Rettig said.

Reporters and television crews clustered Thursday outside Lovell's two-story town house in Plantation, hoping for an interview. He didn't show.


Friends said Lovell is amicable and soft-spoken, doesn't drink or smoke, and is a no-nonsense kind of guy.

''There's no BS with him,'' said White, of Yulee. 'You could compare him to Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry. But because of his lifestyle, he's like `Clean Harry.' ''

Neighbors and friends said he is unmarried, drives a Corvette and sometimes is away for long periods of time. A neighbor collected his mail Thursday.

At one point during his Marine career, the Kentucky native served as a pilot for presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. After retiring from the Corps, he became a pilot for Delta and Pan Am.

Bryan Sklar, who serves on the Townhouses at Jacaranda board with Lovell, said he is a straight-up guy.

''I've seen pictures of him with John F. Kennedy,'' Sklar said.

After the holdup Wednesday night, the suspects were transported to Broward General Medical Center, where Arrindell was later pronounced dead. Gadson, listed Thursday night in serious condition, faces armed robbery charges. And because someone was killed during the crime, he also will be charged with murder, authorities said.


The two young men were longtime best friends and roommates in North Lauderdale, Arrindell's grandfather, Meanwell Prince, said Thursday.

''My grandson was a good child,'' he said.

The last time he spoke to his grandson was shortly before the robbery. At 10:50 p.m. Prince called his grandson, who told him to leave the door unlocked because he would be home soon.

The next morning, Prince awoke to find police at his door.

Prince was shocked to learn what had happened.

''What could possess them to do this?'' Prince said.

Miami Herald staff writers Jennifer Mooney Piedra and Trenton Daniel contributed to this report.