Rescuer gets free hamburgers for life

21:39, May 23 2013
Charles Ramsey
JUST DO IT: Charles Ramsey has quickly taken the internet by storm.

The man made famous for putting down his Big Mac to help free three women held captive for about a decade in a Cleveland house will never have to buy a hamburger in his hometown again.

More than two weeks after Charles Ramsey became an instant folk hero after telling his story to television reporters, Cleveland food blogger Michelle Venorsky said overnight (NZ time) that 15 restaurants are offering him a free hamburger, whenever he wants it.

Ms Venorsky floated the idea to her followers after seeing Mr Ramsey's first interview on TV.

"He was so entertaining ... I thought he should never have to pay for another meal in Cleveland again," Ms Venorsky said in a phone interview.

Since his first interview on local TV, Ramsey, a dishwasher at a Cleveland restaurant, has become an Internet sensation. The restaurant produced a t-shirt with Ramsey's face and the words "Cleveland Hero" on the front, netting US$21,000 (NZ$25,794) for a fund set up for the women, who were held captive for about a decade.

Mr Ramsey was not available for comment today. He has had brushes with the law in the past, including domestic violence convictions.

Amanda Berry, her six-year-old daughter, and two other women, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, were discovered in the house of former school bus driver Ariel Castro on May 6. Mr Ramsey heard Ms Berry's calls for help and he and others helped her escape and call 911.

Mr Castro has been charged with multiple counts of kidnapping and rape. He is in jail on an US$8 million bond.

One restaurant owner, Sam McNulty, said the offer of free burgers to Ramsey "is a communal high-five from the Cleveland restaurant industry."

The kidnapping story has several fast food connections.

Mr Ramsey's story, with its mention of a McDonald's hamburger, won him praise from the restaurant chain.

After the discovery of the women, Mr Castro was arrested in front of a McDonald's about 1.6 kilometres from the house.

As a school bus driver, Mr Castro was once accused of leaving a child alone on a bus, telling the child "lie down, bitch," while he visited a Wendy's restaurant.

Also, a neighbour reported seeing Mr Castro park his school bus outside the house and bring a large bag of fast food and several drinks inside, even though he was thought to live alone. The neighbour said his mother called police, who warned Mr Castro not to park his school bus outside the house.

Lawyers said in a statement on behalf of the three women that they are "happy and safe and continue to heal."

For McDonald's, however, not all recently publicity has been positive.

At its annual shareholder meeting at Oak Brook, Illinois headquarters, the fast food chain faced criticism that it's a purveyor of junk food that markets to children, minorities and others.

At the event, McDonald's was taken to task by speakers associated with an advocacy group about its menu and marketing toward kids.

As with other shareholder meetings, McDonald's Corp. allotted about half an hour for anyone who owned its stock to address its top executives.

Among those was a nine-year-old girl who asked CEO Don Thompson to stop "tricking kids into eating your food."

Later on, the girl's mother echoed the request, saying McDonald's undermines parents by marketing to children.

Another speaker asked that McDonald's remove its locations from hospitals, while others asked it to stop targeting communities of colour by signing stars such as Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas and the NBA's LeBron James.

-Reuters, AP