Thanks to the heroism of two local business owners, a collaborative approach to crime prevention in the community and fast acting measures from the RCMP – the infamous Sylvan Lake serial robber’s run has rumbled to a halt.
For weeks Jenn and Tim Stoddart, owners of Bayshore Market, watched as one local business after another was hit by a masked but seemingly unarmed assailant. They knew it was only a matter of time before they would see those signature eyebrows walkthrough their door, knowing it was inevitable they and the robber would likely soon meet.
They had asked other local business owners and victims of the robberies how the individual acted while in their stores, along with what he had said during the robberies. Then with what they learned, Jenn and Tim spent a good deal of time talking about and rehearsing what to do when the robber came knocking on their cash drawer.
Their weeks of suspicion were correct. Like clock work on Monday afternoon at 3:21 p.m. the black masked bandit crossed the threshold of their store front.
“He was in and out of here in a minute and a half,” recalls Jenn. “He came through the door, he had his mask on – a different sweater this time it was blue and yellow instead of the usual all black. I said hello and asked him how he was. ‘Cold,’ he replied.He grabbed an ice tea from the cooler, put it on the counter and I told him if that was everything it would be two dollars please.He went to reach for money but instead put a bag on the counter and said, ‘Please put the money in the bag’ – I replied a simple‘No’.”
Jenn kept calm, Tim was unseen to the masked man but was in the store watching and listening to what was happening. They had planned for the situation. Under the counter, a can of dog spray – a mild form of mace – was stashed and ready to use. Jenn reached for the deterrent, but as she raised the spray the suspect shielded his face and fled the scene without her having to use it.
As the suspect fled on foot, Tim pursued cautiously.
“He never really ran,” remembers Tim, who before purchasing Bayshore Market with his wife was a member of the CanadianArmed Forces for 22 years, time which included a tour in Afghanistan. “He left the store and just started jogging. I don’t think he realized I was behind him because after a couple of blocks he slowed to a walk.
“I never felt scared – there was never any hand to hand combat – I don’t know if my military training was what made me pursue him but I did.”
The suspect got in his car with just enough time for Tim, who was on the phone with 9-1-1, to give them the make and model of the vehicle with a nearby witness also having grabbed a photo of the vehicle.
Five minutes after having called the incident in, the RCMP were on scene at Bayshore. Within 20 minutes they had returned with good news in hand. The suspect had been located in a blue four door older model Toyota Corolla near Humpty’s and Esso.
“I didn’t even think about when I went after him – I guess I just figured I would follow after him to see where he goes to after,”Tim said, with Jenn adding they are thankful they had a plan in place.
Over the past few weeks Jenn had been working nights. She said she had ran through the situation in her head a number of times which may have lead to her calmness when the robber entered the establishment.
“I asked staff at Plaza who have been hit a number of times now what he did when he came into her store. She told me he apologized – she told me he said he was sorry he had to do this to her again,” said Jenn. “He apologized to her twice – so that didn’t instil a lot of fear in me, which made me think why would I hand the money over if he’s not violent.
“We would never expect our employees not to hand the money over, but that’s where the difference of being the owners comes into play. This store is our life. We work really hard for our money and even if they got $200 then that’s a lot of people in and out of our doors to get that money when you’re in a convenience store.”
Even though the robber rests behind bars, the Stoddarts stated this won’t be the end of their heightened sense of security and urge others not to become complacent simply because this assailant has been arrested.
“He proved it was pretty simple to walk into somewhere unarmed and not threaten anyone – so what else might this spur?”questioned Jenn. “I think everyone still needs to be very much aware of what’s going on out there and stick together.”
Sylvan Lake RCMP Detachment Commander, Staff Sergeant Gary Rhodes, stated over the last three weeks they had been putting proactive policing measures into affect such as speaking with local businesses owners as well as stationing police vehicles in front of high risk store fronts.
“After the attempted robbery at Bayshore Market early this afternoon, several minutes later we were able to capture the culprit and it appears there is enough evidence to proceed with charges – he’s our guy,” said Rhodes.
A search of the suspect’s vehicle yielded evidence to support several of the robbery offences were committed in Sylvan Lake over the last month. Aaron Mays, 24 years of age of Sylvan Lake, has been charged with: seven counts of robbery, seven counts of wearing a disguise in the commission of an offence and two counts of possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose. Mays has been remanded in custody and was to make a court appearance on Wednesday January 13 at the Red Deer Provincial Courthouse with results of his first appearance not being known at the time of press.