February 5, 2009 in City

Security beefed up at pharmacies, loan stores

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A serial robber suspected of a major OxyContin heist this week in Spokane has prompted extra patrols at pharmacies and additional security measures at payday loan stores.

Check into Cash stores in Spokane now stay locked during business hours and require customers to show identification before they can enter.

Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies are regularly monitoring pharmacies as they do banks and credit unions.

The measures come as investigators hunt for a young man who dons a black ski mask and wields a handgun during the crimes. Police believe he robbed four payday loan centers last month and, on Tuesday, a Shopko pharmacy where he took $5,000 worth of the powerful prescription drug OxyContin.

“We know we’re probably not going to walk into a robbery in progress,” said Sgt. Dave Reagan, a spokesman for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. “But knowing that we’re going to be paying more attention to the businesses, hopefully that will at least slow down these robberies until we get this guy in custody.”

Check into Cash district manager Jeremy Scruggs did not return phone calls seeking comment. But stores around Spokane kept their doors locked Thursday and posted signs warning customers they’d likely need to show identification to get inside. That may have thwarted another robbery attempt. Employees at the store at 555 E. Francis Avenue saw a man in a black ski mask run away after realizing the door was locked just before 6 p.m.

It’s the second time this week the robber approached a locked door. Police suspect that after finding the store at 920 N. Division St. closed about 6 p.m. Tuesday, the robber drove to the Shopko at 9520 N. Division. About 6:40 p.m., employees at Shopko reported a gunpoint robbery by a man in a black ski mask. The man stole seven bottles of the powerful painkiller, valued at nearly $5,000, police said.

Tuesday’s pharmacy robbery was the fifth of the year. Police arrested five people – including a 15-year-old boy – in connection with the four pharmacy robberies in January. A suspect in a knife-point robbery Jan. 21 at the South Hill Walgreens, Richard T. Ludvik, 23, remains at large.

The loan center robber first struck Jan. 14 at Check and Go at 6411 N. Division. On Jan. 20, a masked gunman matching that same description hit the Francis Avenue Check into Cash, then struck the same store again Jan. 29, hours after a similar robbery at the Division Street Check into Cash.

“There’s some assumption that he’s a drug user and that he was stealing money to buy the Oxys,” said police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe.

OxyContin, a trade name for oxycodone, is an opium-based narcotic that produces a heroin-like high when the time-release capsules are crushed, then injected, snorted or smoked. A 40 mg OxyContin pill costs about $5.40 at Bi-Mart but can fetch $30 to $50 on the black market.

Walgreens spokeswoman Tiffani Washington said the store has taken extra security precautions but declined to elaborate.

The Medicine Man pharmacy chain in Liberty Lake and North Idaho no longer stocks OxyContin and asks customers to give notice for a prescription. That’s not likely to happen at Walgreens, Washington said.

“OxyContin is for people who are in a lot of pain,” she said. “To have some people wait to receive the medications, in many cases, is not appropriate.”

Pharmacy patrols have been effective in the past. Spokane police nabbed suspected serial robber Edward A. Saner, 23, in October after a two-day stakeout of Rite Aid pharmacies.

The 10 or so robberies since his arrest have included a Bi-Mart, a Shopko and at least four Walgreens.

Sheriff’s patrols aren’t limited to pharmacies outside the city. Undercover investigators could be watching any store, Reagan said.

“Now is not a good time to be hanging out near a pharmacy,” he said.

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