JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A man police say robbed four businesses at gunpoint in one day over a week ago is now wanted in connection with at least 11 business robberies in Jacksonville, the beaches and St. Johns County, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
The crime spree began Dec. 15 at a CVS drugstore in the Town Center, where, according to police, the victims said a man wearing all black clothing and a black ski mask walked in holding a gun. He approached an employee and demanded money, but she told him there was none, police said.
She said at that point the man turned the gun on another person in the store and demanded money. That person told police he threw his wallet on the ground, and the man picked it up and quickly left the store. The wallet had about $200 in it, police said.
Police said the robber then went to a Race Trac on Atlantic Boulevard and stole another $75 from the register there. The police report said the employee working at the gas station complied with the gunman's demands and never made eye contact with him.
The spree continued for the next two weeks, and he hit eight more businesses in several areas, including a Dunkin' Donuts in St. Johns County, a Japanese steakhouse on Gate Parkway, three Walgreens drugstores, a Speedway, another CVS store on Old St. Augustine Road and a Dollar General on New Berlin Road.
“Since he’s hit so many, he’s developed a certain level of confidence that he can continue to do this. But now that he’s been identified somewhat, he may become more dangerous and violent," News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said. “It just takes a half-second or less to pull that trigger and hurt someone.”
Police released surveillance images of the man and the vehicle he is believed to be using, which has been identified by witnesses at several of the robberies. The vehicle appears to be a white, early 2000s model Toyota Corolla sedan. It was described as having tinted windows and at least one missing hubcap.
The suspect is described as a black man armed with a handgun and wearing a black scarf/shirt over his head while committing the crimes. Witnesses said the man is between 6 feet and 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighs 160-200 pounds.
Smith said the photos and video are pretty clear, and even though the man is wearing a ski mask or has his face covered, it should be easy for someone who knows him to recognize him. He said it might be hard for a relative or friend to turn the man in, but it's the right thing to do.
“You wouldn’t want to watch News4Jax in a week or so and find out this person actually killed somebody and you could have been the person to stop this from happening," Smith said.
Eight of the businesses the man is suspected of robbing are:
- Otaki Steak House at 7860 Gate Parkway
- Walgreens at 11 N. University Blvd.
- Speedway at 4324 Atlantic Blvd.
- Walgreens at 11430 Beach Blvd.
- CVS pharmacy at 4893 Town Center Parkway
- Race Trac gas station at 4544 Atlantic Blvd.
- CVS pharmacy at 11060 Old St. Augustine Road
- Dollar General at 716 New Berlin Road
According to a JSO incident report, the man told the cashiers at the businesses, "Open the register. This is a robbery," and "to not count the money." After collecting the cash, police said, the man wished the victims a Merry Christmas and then took off.
John Nguyen, the head chef at Otaki Steak House, recounted the events that unfolded inside the Japanese steakhouse and sushi bar Sunday, saying the robber made his way to the front counter, demanded all the money in the cash register -- totaling about $200 -- and took the diamond rings from the fingers of the very startled owner.
"The guy came to the back door and he just had a gun," Nguyen said. "She (the owner) was so scared she thought he was joking."
Nguyen said the Southside restaurant has been open for 10 years and nothing like that had ever happened before.
"She was so scared it took at least three or four hours to get her back to normal," Nguyen said. "I hope the public will catch this guy because he came around to the business and a lot of people are scared."
The man was spotted before the holdup by Aldo Louis, a hairstylist who works near the Shoppes of Gate Parkway -- the plaza where Otaki is located.
"About 1 o'clock, I saw this guy walking around and after 10 minutes, 15 minutes later, everyone is running around and I said, 'What is going on here?' Deputies, sheriffs -- it was like a movie," Louis said.
Employees of a nearby tanning salon also said the man came into their lobby twice but walked back out.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is coordinating its efforts with the Neptune Beach Police Department and the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office as they attempt to identify and catch the suspected robber.
Anyone with any information about the man's identity is asked to call the Sheriff's Office at 904-630-0500 or email JSOCrimeTips@jaxsheriff.org. To remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.