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Co-worker tried to wrestle gun away from Publix shooter

News Channel 8
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:52 PM
CLEARWATER -

Virginia Wahler, 74, said she had a bad feeling when co-worker Arunya Rouch approached her inside the Tarpon Springs Publix store, with her hand thrust into a green Publix shopping bag.

The two women hugged briefly and exchanged greetings, but Wahler worried about the bag.

"I knew a gun was in it," Wahler testified at Rouch's trial this morning.

She had no idea at that moment that Rouch had just gunned down another co-worker, Gregory Janowski as he sat in his car in the Publix parking lot before reporting in for his shift at the store.

Rouch is on trial for murder, attempted murder and aggravated assault after a shooting rampage on March 30, 2010.

Rouch killed Gregory Janowski in the parking lot, went into the store looking for managers to shoot, and ended up bleeding from near fatal wounds on the floor of the crackers aisle after a fierce gun battle with Tarpon Springs police.

Somewhere amid the shooting spree, Rouch paused to reload the bullet clip of her automatic handgun. Prosecutors say she fired the gun at least 12 times that day.

For a few moments, Wahler was the only thing that stood between Rouch and her next intended victim, Rouch's supervisor Ronald Chmielorz.

"I just said c'mon baby you don't want to do this," Wahler testified. "I just had a feeling she was going to do something to him."

"I'm not going to let you do this," the 74-year-old woman said she told Rouch.

That's when the two women began struggling as Wahler tried to wrestle the gun away from Rouch who is about 30 years younger. Wahler said she tried to restrain Rouch in a headlock.

"I'm not going to let you do this," Wahler said she told Rouch. "She said, 'let me go or I'll kill you.'"

Wahler said Rouch cocked the gun and pointed it at her stomach twice, the second time close enough to bury the muzzle in her clothing.

Convinced that Rouch was deadly serious, Wahler let go just as Rouch's boss approached.

"Arunya comes after me with a gun straight up in my face," Chmeilorz testified.

He said she pulled the trigger, but inexplicably, the gun misfired sending an unspent round flying into the air, which Wahler later picked up from the dairy aisle floor "as a souvenir" before fleeing the Publix store to call 911.

By this time Publix workers and customers alike were running for cover as Tarpon Springs police rushed into the chaotic scene, guns drawn.

I ran for my life out the back door," Chmielorz testified. "I'm glad to be alive."

Moments later, Tarpon Springs police Sergeant Mike Trill had a close call of his own when a gun fight ensued with Rouch. One of the rounds fired from Rouch's gun shattered the pepper spray canister on his gun belt and ricocheted off his holster.

An inch or two in any direction and the shot might have been fatal.

The rampage ended with Rouch lying in a pool of her own blood, critically wounded four times in the shoot out with Trill and two other officers.

Rouch's attorneys say she was legally insane at the time of the rampage, pushed over the edge by her firing five hours earlier by Chmielorz and two other store managers.

They had fired her that morning because three days earlier she threatened to kill Janowski when he reprimanded her for working "off the clock."

Thursday, store manager Mickey McPhee testified that Publix has zero tolerance of workplace threats and violence.


mdouglas@wfla.com (727) 431-3448

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