Two robberies, one store: Vernon brother and sister robbed at knife point - InfoNews

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Two robberies, one store: Vernon brother and sister robbed at knife point

Video surveillance footage from Toro's Cold Beer and Wine story on Kalamalka Lake Road in Vernon shows an armed robbery suspect entering the store Nov. 24, 2017.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/RCMP
November 30, 2017 - 6:30 PM

"PLEASE DON'T HURT ME"

VERNON - As an employee, you’re never really prepared to be held up by a masked robber, but Alex Francis says he’d been readying himself for about a month, ever since his sister was threatened at knifepoint at the same store.

“I was mentally prepping myself whenever that door opened,” Francis says. “I’m still on edge.”

His sister, Hayley Francis, was working alone at Toro’s Liquor Beer & Wine Store on Oct. 8 around 8:45 p.m. when a masked man suddenly entered the store and jumped over the counter. She says he had a serrated knife and demanded cash from the till.

“I said ‘okay, yes I will, please don’t hurt me,’” she says. “I was crying. He was telling me to hurry up…. When he finished he said ‘if you call the cops I’ll come back and hurt you.’”

After he left with cash and cigarettes, she locked herself in the bathroom and called the police.

Several weeks later on Nov. 24, her brother, who also works at Toro’s liquor store, says he was held up just before 10 p.m. by who he thinks is the same man.

“All of a sudden I heard a loud bang and I knew something was wrong,” Alex Francis says. “I looked up and saw a guy with a black hood and a scarf on.”

Instead of freezing — which he thinks he might have done if he wasn’t mentally prepared for the situation — Francis immediately ran for the door. He says the suspect, who had something shiny and metal in his hand, chased him part of the way out, then went back to the store but didn’t end up taking anything. 

“I’m really happy my instincts kicked in the way they did,” he says. “Even the cops are saying I ended up distracting the guy.”

He says he’d been on alert and ready to lock the door or make a break for it after what happened to his sister. 

Police have released video footage from the second robbery, and while Const. Kelly Brett confirmed the Oct. 8 incident (which was not initially reported) she could not say if it was the same suspect. She says investigations into the cases are ongoing. Since September, there have been at least five armed robberies in Vernon, including one last night, Nov. 29, at the Shell gas station on Okanagan Landing Road. 

After what happened, Hayley Francis says she was too afraid to continue working at the store and quit. Alex is still there, but says he’s “twice as nervous now."

“I’m basically studying everybody’s shoes now,” he says, noting the suspect was wearing white skate shoes. “I find myself assessing a lot of people now.”

Video surveillance footage shows an armed robbery suspect chasing as employee out of Toro's Cold Beer and Wine store on Kalamalka Lake Road in Vernon, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017.
Video surveillance footage shows an armed robbery suspect chasing as employee out of Toro's Cold Beer and Wine store on Kalamalka Lake Road in Vernon, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/RCMP

“WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO”

Toro’s manager Gianni Nerilli says the pair of robberies have had a huge impact on business.

“I have staff quitting because they’re afraid to work at night,” he says, noting two employees left in total. “It’s hard to find employees now where we’ve had two robberies.”

In the five years he’s been working at the store, he says there haven’t been any other robberies that he’s aware of, but thefts have become a growing problem.

“This year has probably been the worst year,” he says. “We don’t know what to do.”

He says the store has installed bright lights in the parking lot, enhanced video surveillance, and ever since the robbery, requires two employees to be working at night.

“We’ve increased security but it’s still not enough,” Nerilli says. “It (security) is helpful when it happens but it doesn’t prevent it. When they (robber) come in, no one can stop them. If they’re going to rob you, they will.”

Between the added staffing and security costs, the difficulty finding replacement staff and the loss of stolen cash and merchandise, he says the criminal activity is taking a toll on business.

Police say the suspect appears to match descriptions from a number of other robberies, and could possibly be connected to incidents up and down the valley. Both Alex and Hayley Francis are hoping the culprit, if it is the same person, is caught before someone else becomes his victim.

“I don’t want this guy out on the streets at all,” Alex says. “Me and my sister are so ready to testify against this guy for the emotional damage he’s done to her.”

RCMP describe the suspect in the second Toro’s robbery as a Caucasian man in his early 40s, 5’9” tall and roughly 165 lbs. with a fair complexion. He was wearing jeans, a black hooded sweatshirt with a black scarf covering his face.

Anyone with any information is asked to contact the Vernon RCMP at 250-545-7171. Or remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477, or leaving a tip online at www.nokscrimestoppers.com.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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