Armed citizens take down suspect robber; getaway driver on the loose

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Yetta Gibson

Posted on April 3, 2013 at 8:39 AM

Updated Friday, Apr 5 at 1:23 PM

Map: * J&J Arrowhead Pharmacy (67th Ave. & Union Hills)
* Estrella Pharmacy (Loop 101 & Thomas)
* Melrose Pharmacy (7th Ave. & Indian School)

View larger map

PHOENIX -- With the help of two armed citizens, police arrested one man in connection with armed robberies at three different pharmacies, but they believe another suspect -- the getaway driver -- is still out there.

Not only is James Johnson, 43, facing charges of armed robbery, police say more charges could be coming.

According to Sgt. Trent Crump of the Phoenix Police Department, Johnson hit three pharmacies -- one in Glendale and two in Phoenix -- in a single day.

It started at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, March 25. Crump said Johnson walked into J&J Arrowhead Pharmacy just northeast of 67th Avenue and Union Hills Drive, pulled a handgun on an employee and demanded OxyContin. Pills in hand, Johnson fled the store and was spotted getting into the passenger seat of a black Ford Expedition.

Less than two hours later, Johnson, still armed, allegedly walked into Estrella Pharmacy near the Loop 101 Agua Fria Freeway and Thomas Road, about a 20-minute drive from the first scene, and pointed his weapon at a pregnant employee. Crump said Johnson gave that employee a note demanding OxyContin pills. She shared that note with other employees, which is when things took a turn.

Another store employee grabbed his own gun and order Johnson to the floor. Surveillance video shows that Johnson started to comply, but quickly jumped up and ran out of the pharmacy empty-handed.

Just after noon, less than three hours after the first robbery and about 40 minutes after the second, Johnson allegedly walked into a third pharmacy -- Melrose Pharmacy, which is just west of Seventh Avenue and and north of Indian School Road, about a 23-minute drive from Estrella Pharmacy.

Crump said he pointed a gun at an employee and demanded the store's stock of Percocet pills. While employees were gathering those pills, a customer was able to slip out of the store and get help.

Two armed citizens confronted Johnson -- who was still armed, himself -- as he tried to leave the store with a bag of pills, Crump said they detained him until officers arrived on the scene and arrested him without incident.

Crump said witnesses to two of the robberies reported seeing Johnson get into the passenger side of a black Ford Expedition with dark tinted windows and stock wheels. The license plate, which might be from out of state, starts with AA and has five numbers including 1, 4, 9, and 0. The letters are red over a white background.

Nobody saw the driver.

If you have any information about the Expedition or its driver, call Silent Witness at 480-WITNESS (948-6377), 1-800-343-TIPS (8477) or 480-TESTIGO (837-8446).

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