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These Are Side Dishes the Family Didn't Order

A waiter in a tiff with customers is nabbed after their Corona home is vandalized with food.

June 10, 2003|Kristina Sauerwein | Times Staff Writer

The Sizzler restaurant in Norco doesn't usually deliver. And it's pretty good about substitutions.

But police allege that one of its waiters followed four customers home to Corona after an argument over swapping vegetables for potatoes. He is accused of delivering an unexpected order early Saturday: eggs smashed on the house, maple syrup dribbled over the hedges, and a sprinkling of powdered sugar, flour and instant mashed potato flakes on the lawn.

The "midnight special" landed waiter Jonathan Voeltner and two alleged accomplices in custody briefly on suspicion of misdemeanor vandalism. The Keller family spent the weekend cleaning up.

Darlene Keller was dining Friday at the restaurant with her husband, their two children, ages 7 and 9, and her mother and father. Keller, 40, a Corona schools cafeteria employee, said the trouble started when she asked for broccoli and cauliflower to accompany her steak dinner.

"We don't have any vegetables," the 20-year-old Voeltner snapped, according to the Kellers. "I can bring you a baked potato or French fries."

Darlene's husband, Wayne, insisted that the waiter bring his wife vegetables. She is avoiding carbohydrates for dietary reasons, he said, and the restaurant has a salad bar with broccoli and cauliflower.

Voeltner left in a huff and returned with a skimpy salad, said Wayne Keller, a 37-year-old Corona salesman.

"He practically threw the tiny plate [of salad] on the table; it even bounced," Wayne Keller said Monday. "Then he told my wife to go get her own salad dressing."

They called for the manager, who apologized for the waiter's behavior and cooked Darlene Keller a big plate of broccoli and cauliflower. The Kellers thought the rest of dinner went fine. Voeltner even stopped by during the meal to see if the family needed anything else.

"He didn't mention potatoes," Wayne Keller said. "There was no screaming or yelling." The family paid the $29.89 bill and "my in-laws left a tip. We had no clue anything was wrong."

Once home, the family was asleep by 11:15 p.m., Wayne Keller said.

But the vegetable dispute was still simmering inside Voeltner, Corona police said, and he asked his girlfriend, 17, to follow the couple to learn where they live. Hours later, according to police, the waiter and his girlfriend bought syrup, eggs, flour, toilet paper and other items at a supermarket.

Then, police allege, Voeltner, his girlfriend and his 17-year-old brother -- the minors were not named because of their ages -- went to the Kellers' one-story bungalow and unrolled toilet paper onto a pine tree and smashed eggs on the home's brown exterior. Eggs also were crushed on the Kellers' mailbox, inside and out. It was covered in syrup and sealed with duct tape, the family said, and the other food items were tossed about.

Corona Police Officer John Samano said the trio rang the Kellers' doorbell six times and hid in a car and behind a bush to watch. Wayne Keller said he looked through the window and spotted a white SUV with its brake lights on. After noticing toilet paper streamers and other "weird" stuff covering his property, he said, he called police.

Within minutes, the police arrested Voeltner and the two juveniles -- who were still in front of the house -- on suspicion of misdemeanor vandalism.

"They probably weren't thinking," Samano said of the trio's alleged decision to wait around and watch.

Darlene Keller said she recognized Voeltner immediately and told police, "Oh my God, it's the waiter from Sizzler."

The Kellers also said they recognized the girl as someone who had been sitting in a Sizzler booth near them. "At one point, the waiter whispered something to her," Wayne Keller said.

Voeltner and the others were released on their own recognizance pending a court appearance. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

The staff at the Norco Sizzler feels terrible about what happened, said Susan Hernandez, spokeswoman for the Sherman Oaks-based chain. "This type of behavior is not tolerated at Sizzler," she said. "We pride ourselves on good service."

Voeltner was suspended without pay, Hernandez said, pending a Sizzler investigation.

Wayne Keller said his family remained "freaked out" Monday. His children cry and are afraid to go to sleep. A frontyard memorial to his late father -- made of driftwood, a U.S. flag and ceramic squirrels -- was destroyed during the vandalism, he said.

"I still don't understand," he said. "All my wife wanted was vegetables."

Although the Kellers praised the restaurant manager, they said they will not return to any of the chain's restaurants.

"That night pretty much did it," Wayne Keller said.


Times staff writer Hilda Munoz contributed to this report.

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