String of stickups have North Fork police on alert

11/21/2012 8:00 AM |

FILE PHOTOS | Four armed robberies have been reported at local businesses in the past month. Police officials say they are stepping up patrols.

An armed robbery at a Mattituck gas station Monday night marked the fourth such incident at a local business in the past month, and town police department officials say they’re stepping up patrols and investigating to see whether the crimes are related.

The first reported robbery occurred on Oct. 20 when two masked men armed with handguns robbed the Spirit Halloween store on Route 58 about 9:30 p.m., Riverhead police said.

The men removed an undisclosed amount of cash from the store’s registers and fled south across the parking lot. No one was injured in the incident.

About a week and a half later, three masked men dressed in costumes robbed a Valero gas station in Riverside on Halloween night, Southampton police said.

At least two of the men were armed with handguns when they held up the Flanders Road station, also at 9:30 p.m., police said.

The men struck the gas attendant and took about $270 in cash from the store’s register, said Southampton Town police Detective Sergeant Lisa Costa in a previous interview. The men attempted to rob the clerk as well, but fled the scene because they believed police were on their way, she said.

One week later on Nov. 7, three masked men wearing hooded black sweatshirts stormed Barth’s Pharmacy in Riverhead about 6 p.m., Riverhead police said. The men, one of whom was armed with a handgun, demanded cash and prescription drugs from the store’s employees.

The men made off with assorted merchandise and cash and fled the store through a rear door, police said. No one was hurt in the robbery. Police later released stills from a store surveillence video showing the suspects.

A parked vehicle was seen in the vicinity, with its headlights on, facing the rear door as the suspects fled the area, police said. Another vehicle was seen at the same time driving in an easterly direction through the lot.

The most recent robbery occurred Monday night, when three masked men robbed a Mattituck gas station of more than $4,000 in cash and cigarettes, police and a store manager said.

A masked man entered the BP station on Main Road about 10:15 p.m. and pointed a handgun at the store’s cashier, ordering him to lie down on the floor, manager Recep Zaim said on Tuesday.

Two other men wearing masks or bandanas over their faces entered the store and began emptying the cash register behind the counter, police said.

About $4,000 in cash and 11 cartons of cigarettes were taken in the robbery, Mr. Zaim said. The men then went to the back of the store and smashed the surveillance cameras before fleeing the scene, he said, causing about $2,000 worth of damage.

The employee was unharmed in the robbery, Mr. Zaim said.

Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said in an interview that the suspects fled the area down a nearby side street. K-9 units were called to the scene Monday night to investigate, though police have not made an any arrests, he said.

Chief Flatley said it was too early to tell if the robbery Monday night was related to the other armed robberies in the area, though it was “obviously one of the things we’re looking into.”

Southold police have increased their patrols in the western part of Southold Town as a result of the robberies.

“We’re stepping up our patrols of gas stations and other similar types of stores,” Chief Flatley said. “Our patrol officers are definitely aware of what’s going on and are keeping a close look in those areas.”

The police chief also advised business owners to remain vigilant and staff stores with more than one employee for safety reasons.

Riverhead police Det. Sgt. Joseph Loggia said the department is still investigating the two robberies in Riverhead Town.

“We don’t have anything definite, but we’re looking into the possibility [that the robberies are related],” he said.

Like in Southold, Riverhead police have also increased patrols around town, Sgt. Loggia said.

“Patrols are stepped up,” he said. “Everybody’s on the lookout for anything that could happen.”

Sgt. Loggia also asked residents with information about the robberies to tell police.

“If you thought you saw something, say something,” he said. “Anyone with information is encouraged to come forward.”

Southampton police Det. Sgt. Lisa Costa could not be reached to comment on the department’s investigation of the Riverside robbery.

Residents with information regarding the robberies can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers at (800) 220-TIPS, Riverhead police at (631) 727-4500, Southampton town police detectives at (631) 702-2230, or Southold police at (631) 765-2600.

Police have offered a $5,000 cash reward for information about the Barth’s Pharmacy robbery. All calls will be kept confidential.

psquire@timesreview.com

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