Lawrence store owner uses baseball bat to subdue man who broke into his store

Vendor Richard DeMatteo, who comes into Avelino Fernandez’ market weekly to sharpen his deli knives, greets Fernandez and his girlfriend Gina Burgos. Fernandez used a metal baseball bat to fend off a robber who broke into his market on Essex Street.
Vendor Richard DeMatteo, who comes into Avelino Fernandez’ market weekly to sharpen his deli knives, greets Fernandez and his girlfriend Gina Burgos. Fernandez used a metal baseball bat to fend off a robber who broke into his market on Essex Street.Credit: Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

LAWRENCE — Avelino Fernandez said today he hit an alleged thief with a metal baseball bat only after the man refused to drop a wooden broomstick during a confrontation inside Fernandez’s convenience store early on Memorial Day.

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

This March, Fernandez fought with a thief and held onto him until police arrived and arrested him. Since then, Fernandez has been sleeping at his Essex Street store every night, convinced that his personal attention is the best, and most efficient, means of protecting the business that he supports his family with.

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“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.’’

According to Lawrence police and Fernandez, around 5 a.m. on Monday, 38-year-old Douglas Ragonese broke into Fernandez’s store. The Methuen man was armed with a wooden broomstick, Fernandez said.

The store owner said he rushed to confront Ragonese, but added that rather than dropping the broomstick, Ragonese swung it at him.

“Had he not swung at me and been calm, I wouldn’t have hit him,’’ Fernandez said.

The store owner recalls hitting Ragonese twice with the metal bat.

Ragonese today was listed in critical condition at Lawrence General Hospital. Police said they were told by medical personnel that he may have suffered a fractured skull during the incident.

Fernandez said his two children were with him at the time of the attack, but added that they do not usually stay overnight at the store.

Lawrence Police Chief John Romero said the department’s inquiry into Fernandez’s actions is continuing. However, he added, detectives have not found any evidence that contradicts Fernandez’s account of the incident.

“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.’’

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

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

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