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Liquor salesman, 71, fends off attackers in Englewood – with tequila bottle

Willie Whitehead, 71, Liquor salesman demonstrates how he fended off attackers with a bottle of tequila after a sales call in the Englewood yesterday. Thursday, March 22, 2012 | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

The gang of five young muggers probably thought they’d picked a soft target in 71-year-old Willie Whitehead.

But the veteran liquor salesman was armed and ready to fight – with a 750ml bottle of Rancho Alegre tequila.

He didn’t spill a drop. But all five attackers were arrested within minutes Wednesday afternoon after Whitehead bravely defended himself, police say.

“I told them, ‘Come on with it!,’” Whitehead recalled Thursday, mimicking how he had brandished the fiery Mexican booze above his head after being attacked at the corner of 59th and Halsted around 1:30 p.m.

“I told them, ‘I’ll hit you with it,’” he added with a chuckle.

The would-be muggers – ages 18, 17, 16, 14 and 11 – had ripped his suit jacket and unsuccessfully tried to snatch his phone and briefcase moments after he completed a sales visit to an Englewood liquor store, police say.

Whitehead said he was briefly surprised by the attack, but that as soon as he held the bottle above his head, the muggers “stood down – they were just young.”

He managed to get to his car and call police, who arrested Jesse Jackson, 18, Demetrius Shields, 17, and three juveniles, who were all charged with attempted robbery from an elderly victim. Shields and Jackson were Thursday ordered held on bail of $75,000 by Judge Donald Panarese.

Whitehead, who lives on the Southeast Side, said it was the involvement of the 11-year-old that troubled him most. “I’ve been thinking about him a lot,” he said. “He’s a baby, but I can already see the end he’s going to come to … he’s got no discipline and no God.”

Whitehead added that he doesn’t consider himself a hero, “just blessed.” He also escaped unhurt when two gunmen robbed him of his valuables in his garage last year, he said.

He was widowed three years ago but says he “won’t consider retirement until I’m 80,” and was back at work Thursday. He even sold the bottle of Rancho Alegre he’d used to defend himself.

“It’s good stuff,” he said.

Still, he wasn’t tempted to take a swig after his triumph Wednesday. “I’ve got gout,” he said. “It wouldn’t do me any good.”