BY DOUG HARLOW

Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — Quick thinking by pharmacy clerks Tuesday morning and recent training sessions with police led to the arrest of two robbery suspects and the recovery of stolen drugs.

Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey said clerks at the Rite Aid pharmacy at 210 Main St. were on the phone with police even before an 8 a.m. robbery because the men looked suspicious in hooded shirts, baseball caps and sunglasses as they entered the store.

“The clerks called us while this was in progress,” Massey said. “We responded within seconds; it just happened that one of our officers was less than a block away from there.”

Massey said the officer saw a man matching the description of one of the robbers running on Pleasant Street. The man ducked into an apartment building where he was found hiding. The second suspect was found moments later hiding in bushes nearby, according to Massey.

Arrested and charged with class B robbery were Carl Hunter, 19, of Spring Place, and Lance Vashon, 34, with a reported address of 23 Highland Ave., Massey said.

The men did not display a weapon, but handed the pharmacy clerk a threatening note, demanding Oxycontin, which the clerk gave them.

Massey said a woman who witnessed the arrests on Pleasant Street told police she had seen someone tampering with the apartment building’s rubbish container minutes earlier. Police investigated and found a backpack with the drugs taken in the robbery.

It was the 37th robbery of a pharmacy in Maine this year, an all-time record, Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Morris said Tuesday.

“What’s so scary about all this is that in 2008 we had two pharmacy robberies in the state; that’s for the entire year,” Morris said by phone Tuesday. “It all has to do with opiates.”

Morris said the prescription drug problem crosses social and economic lines, affecting not just the stereotypical image of a drug abuser, but now to include variety of people. Supply and demand is met with criminal activity, he said.

“As a result, they’re willing to do anything,” he said. “You look at some of the robberies, for example the last one in Waterville was in Walmart. My gosh there had to be 200 people in that store. Others walk in without even camouflaging themselves, they’re so sick with this addiction they need to do whatever they can to make themselves feel good again.”

Morris, the former police chief in Waterville, said he met earlier this summer with many of the state’s pharmacy groups to discuss ways to protect store employees and the public during a robbery. He said members of the group will continue to look for solutions.

He praised Massey and the Waterville Police Department for its training program, which recently included employees at the Main Street Rite Aid.

“For me, if nothing else was gained out of those presentations other than employees having a higher awareness that they may be a target of a robbery, then I think we accomplished something — and I think we did far more than that,” Massey said. “The clerks called us immediately. They were very attentive.”

Morris said he invites all pharmacies in Maine to contact the Maine Department of Public Safety to join the pharmacy security program.

Hunter is being held on $5,000 cash bail and a probation hold on a previous assault charge, according to Massey. Vashon is being held on $2,500 cash bail. Both are scheduled to make their first court appearance Oct. 10 at Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

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