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Former Tampa man thwarts robbery in Tennessee

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:38 PM
TAMPA -

Since leaving the Tampa area more than two decades ago for a country music career in Nashville, Greg McDougal's life has taken some twists and turns.

He and wife, Diane, had four children, three diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. He left his burgeoning music career for several years to earn a living as a carpenter so he could be with his family. He rededicated his life to God. And when he ended up back in the music industry, he became a Christian singer-songwriter.

Now he can add this to his resume: He's a hero.

Last week, McDougal, 44, stopped for gas at a Citgo station near his home in Mount Juliet, Tenn., about 25 minutes outside of Nashville, and found himself in the middle of a robbery. He ended up stopping the 17-year-old suspect from fleeing, nabbing the weapon and detaining him until police arrived.

"He may have saved my life; he may have saved other lives," said the station's owner, Solomon Yitbarek, in a phone interview. "He is a hero as far as I'm concerned."

McDougal, who grew up in St. Petersburg and Dade City, got a lot of media attention in the Nashville area for his role in stopping the crime. He's a little embarrassed by the fuss, saying, "I just did what anybody would do to protect his family."

"I think I was more mad than anything," he said. "I felt this kid was putting people in danger with his actions, and he needed to be stopped."

McDougal recounts the events like this: At about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, he went inside the convenience store to pay for his gas. A clean-cut teenager at the counter turned to look at him, and when he did, the owner made some "strange motions and pointed at him." The teen, with a fistful of money he had stolen at knifepoint, rushed past McDougall and to a car. He planned to steal the vehicle with the key he had demanded from the owner.

However, the key the owner had given him wasn't the right one, and the teen was struggling to open the locked door. McDougal ran after him and ordered him in a booming voice to put his hands on top of the car. He then grabbed the knife sticking out of the youth's pocket, while shouting to his wife to call the police.

"The adrenalin just took over," McDougal said. "Maybe it was scary, stupid and dangerous to go after him. But I felt my family and the owner were threatened, and that's all that mattered. And I didn't want him getting away to possibly harm someone else."

The police arrived almost immediately. That's no surprise: The police station is about 200 feet away.

"He wasn't the smartest thief," Yitbarek said.

Crime prevention and civic duty runs in the MacDougal family. His twin, Jeffrey, is a former captain with the Zephyrhills Police Department, and brother Brian is the resource officer for Pasco High School. His late sister, Hollie, who died suddenly of a grand mal seizure in 1999, served as the town clerk for St. Leo.

That the musician would react so quickly in a potentially dangerous situation doesn't surprise his mother, Pat Fike of Dade City. She says he has a big heart and a strong faith.

"If he's driving down the road and a stranger's car is broken down, Greg will stop and help. If someone needed furniture, Greg would give him his couch," she said. "That's just the kind of person he is. Without question, he would fight to the death for his family."

Fike is proud of what her son has accomplished, despite the adversity he and his wife, have faced with finances and multiple health issues and hospital stays with their children. The couple home schools the kids – Jeff, 13, Sean, 12, Katie, 10, and Grace, 7 – and take them on the road when McDougal tours for his ministry, The Work of A Carpenter Ministries. The children, who Fike says "sing like angels," occasionally perform with their father on stage.

McDougal has recorded two CDs and is now working on a third titled "It's a Family Thing." In 2010, he was named Music Evangelist of the Year at the 16th Annual Inspirational Country Music Awards.

Close friend Mike Holmes, who sponsored a benefit at his Lithia farm to help the McDougals raise funds to build an allergen-free house in Mount Juliet, says the world "needs more people like Greg."

"He's the kind of guy who steps up and does the right thing. He put his career on hold to be there for his family when they needed him, and he still keeps their interests first," Holmes said. "He doesn't want sympathy for whatever has happened in his life. He puts God first and lives honorably."

 


mbearden@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7613

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