Customers drop by doughnut shop to wish burned worker well

Posted: May 14, 2012

Minutes before the Fresh Donuts shop on Lancaster Avenue closed Saturday, Tamara Harris and her daughter, Tanjanique, 16, stopped in. They wanted to give a get-well card to shop employee Sokchea Luy, 27.

“I couldn’t believe someone would do something like that,” said Tamara Harris, who is a crossing guard at a nearby school and stops by daily for coffee and something to eat. “These are really nice people.”

People have been dropping in with cards, good wishes, and even money since Tuesday morning, when a well-dressed man, a regular customer, lost his temper in the store and threw a cup of hot coffee at Luy. He badly burned her upper arm, but it might have been worse if she hadn’t used the arm to shield her face.

It’s all captured on a store surveillance video with audio. Police say they have identified the man as David Timbers, 42, who lives nearby on Haverford Avenue.

“He knows the police are looking for him,” said police information officer Christine O’Brien. She said authorities expect Timbers to turn himself in. He is charged with aggravated assault.

“I paid for my sandwich,” the man says on the video. “I don’t need the $2.25 or whatever you charged me, $2.40.”

“You not pay me,” Luy says.

The man ordered a turkey, bacon, and cheese sandwich and coffee. Luy hands him his coffee. He pries it from her hand, grabs her wrist, and tosses the full cup at her.

“Take that,” he says, as Luy is heard screaming from behind the counter.

As owner Donald Eap rushed to help, the man cursed him and yelled as he stormed out.

Eap and his wife, Neang-Sy Om, opened their shop in 1991 on the border between Powelton Village and Mantua. “It’s a good neighborhood,” he said. “Nice people. They know each other.”

Eap came from Cambodia in 1979. His sister, his wife, and other family members work at the store. Luy is a cousin, newly arrived in the United States to live with her husband in York. She was visiting the store to help out, but also to learn the business, perhaps so she could open a similar store and pursue the American dream, said Van Eap, another relative.

“She was shocked,” said Van Eap, as Luy smiled shyly from the kitchen behind the counter. A long gauze bandage looped around her arm, nearly from shoulder to elbow.

Luy didn’t want to talk to a reporter. “She thinks everybody’s nice that comes here,” Van Eap said.

Fresh Donuts is the kind of business that understands when a regular customer forgets his wallet, he said. It’s OK, just pay the next day.

That kind of give-and-take happens all the time because, Neang-Sy Eap said, there is a history of trust between her family and the community, a mix of longtime African American residents, Drexel students, and urban pioneers.

“I don’t understand how he could do it,” she said, describing the man as a regular customer who stopped by several times a week. “He could have called the cops to sort it out. Or he could have talked more to us to explain what happened.”

Harris said her children went to school with Donald and Neang-Sy Eap’s children. She knows that Luy is a newcomer to the United States and the neighborhood, which is why she particularly wanted to drop off a card.

“I hope this won’t change her attitude,” she said.

Contact Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JaneVonBergen. Read her blog, Jobbing, at www.philly.com/jobbing.

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