FAIRFIELD — A suspect wanted in connection with three pharmacy robberies was caught Friday after an intensive manhunt and a high-speed motorcycle chase ended in a crash.

Shawn Michael Merrill, 26, a transient, was arrested in Chelsea by Maine State Police about 3:20 p.m., just three hours after he allegedly robbed Rite Aid on Main Street. Merrill is also suspected of two back-to-back robberies on Tuesday — the Walmart pharmacy in Waterville and Goggins IGA in Randolph.

The manhunt began at 1 p.m. Friday, shortly after Merrill allegedly approached a pharmacy clerk with a note demanding drugs. He also lifted his shirt and displayed a handgun tucked into his waistband, Fairfield Police Chief John Emery said.

Minutes later, Merrill fled Rite Aid with about 150 30-milligram tablets of oxycodone, hopped into a tan car with another man and headed south toward Waterville. A cab driver who saw Merrill flee tailed the car down College Avenue, but eventually lost it, Emery said.

Meanwhile, police from seven agencies responded — Fairfield, Waterville, Oakland and Winslow police, troopers from Maine State Police, sheriff’s deputies from Kennebec and Somerset counties and search dogs.

Emery said the search for Merrill coincided with two other dispatch calls in Fairfield — a report of domestic violence and a report of a man threatening people with a handgun.

“We had … calls going on at the same time, pretty much in the same area,” he said. “It was very chaotic there for a little while.”

The confusion led officers to surround a parking lot across the street from the Huhtamaki Packaging plant on the Waterville-Fairfield town line for about an hour and a half, believing the robber had entered nearby woods.

Back at the pharmacy, detectives compared video footage of the Rite Aid robbery with images taken during the Tuesday robbery at Walmart. Emery said the robbers matched.

“We are 100 percent positive it’s the same guy,” Emery said. “The pictures are clear as day.”

About an hour before the Fairfield robbery, Waterville police got a felony arrest warrant in connection with the Walmart robbery for Merrill, whom detectives identified from the security tapes.

Almost three hours later, Merrill was spotted by state police driving a motorcycle south on Route 32 in China. When troopers tried to stop Merrill, he led them on a chase through Windsor, then west on Route 17 toward Augusta. Merrill dumped his motorcycle and slid off the road in Chelsea, Department of Public Safety Spokesman Steve McCausland said.

At the same time, Waldoboro resident Janie Miller was traveling east on Route 17 when she saw Merrill running away from the crash site. She said several police officers were chasing him with guns drawn.

“Then he dove on the ground and put his hands up,” Miller said.

McCausland said troopers also stopped two other cars that may be related to the investigation, but he didn’t know the specifics by press time.

Merrill was taken to Kennebec County jail, where he was booked on several warrants for bail violations. He is being held without bail.

According to McCausland, the Rite Aid robbery was the 22nd pharmacy robbery in Maine this year. There were 24 in 2011.

“There’s a pharmacy robbery almost every eight days in Maine,” McCausland said. “This week there were three in Kennebec County, and we believe we have the person responsible for all three.”

Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey said Merrill made no attempt to disguise himself in the robberies this week and he didn’t ask for anything other than oxycodone.

“I think it shows the desperation of people who are hooked on hard narcotics,” Massey said. “It’s a powerful addiction. It overrides everything else for them. And when they’re strung out and need it, they’re going to do anything to get it.”

Ben McCanna — 861-9239

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