GARDINER — Harrison Avenue was closed off Thursday evening as police hunted in the nearby woods for a man suspected of robbing a Rite Aid pharmacy on Spring Street in the morning.
The pharmacy at the corner of Spring and Bridge streets was held up at 10:35 a.m. by a man who passed an employee a note demanding prescription drugs and saying he had a gun, but he didn’t show one, said Gardiner Police Chief James Toman.
After the robber got an undisclosed amount of prescription drugs – Toman wouldn’t specify what kind – the man ran toward Spring Street. Police attempted to track him using a dog, but Toman said the trail ended behind an Irving gas station and convenience store nearby on Highland Avenue, where a pill bottle was dropped.
Toman said shortly after 5 p.m. that the suspect was believed to be hiding the woods.
Toman described the robber as a white man with blondish brown hair, between 5-feet-6-inches and 5-feet-8-inches tall and weighing between 170 and 190 pounds. He is estimated to be 25 to 30 years old and was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with white lettering with navy blue cargo pants, Toman said.
Maine State Police, the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI and the Maine Department of Corrections assisted city police on the case.
No suspect has been identified in a Monday robbery at the pharmacy of the Goggin’s IGA on Randolph’s Water Street, across the Kennebec River from the Gardiner Rite Aid. That robber is a man about 5-feet- 11-inches tall and weighing 160 to 170 pounds.
Toman said it’s possible that the Thursday and Monday robberies are linked.
On Wednesday, police said they were seeking Thomas G. Bourque, 31, of Belgrade, in connection with the Aug. 3 robbery of the Rite Aid in Manchester.
Before the Aug. 3 Manchester robbery, the last pharmacy robbery in the area occurred at the Osco pharmacy at Shaw’s supermarket on Augusta’s Western Avenue, which was robbed twice in two days. A Gardiner man pleaded guilty to those robberies in April.
The Gardiner Rite Aid was last robbed in 2012, and a 16-year-old was charged in connection with the robbery, in which nobody was injured.
There were a record 58 pharmacy robberies in Maine in 2012, with Augusta seeing a statewide high of nine. But the number of such crimes has plunged since, which some in law enforcement have attributed to heroin becoming a cheaper substitute for people addicted to prescription painkillers.
Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty said the trends have continued, with his office’s field interviews indicating heavy heroin use paired with a downward trend of prescription drug abuse over the last few years.’”I don’t see it trending back up,” he said. “I don’t at all.”
Gardiner police ask that anyone with information about Thursday’s robbery call Detective Michael Durham at 624-7076.
Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at firstname.lastname@example.org