Unicoi, Elizabethton store robberies could be linked

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   Two White's grocery stores in Unicoi County and the city of Erwin were robbed Friday night by a lone gunman. Unicoi County Sheriff's Department is exploring the possibility that the robberies could have been committed by the same man who robbed Food City in Elizabethton a week ago Saturday.
   According to the sheriff's department in Unicoi, a white male who appeared to be in his mid-40s, wearing a shoulder-length gray wig and sunglasses with a fake nose attached, entered White's #2 on Jackson Love Highway shortly after 9 p.m., brandished a semiautomatic handgun, and made off with an undetermined amount of cash.
   The subject was described as over 6 feet tall, heavy build, and wearing a blue jacket. He was seen leaving the store on a bicycle.
   Around 9:20 p.m., Unicoi County 911 received a call from White's #1, saying the store had been robbed at gunpoint. Employees gave a similar description of the robber and said he left on a bicycle and disappeared into the woods. He reportedly made off with about $30,000.
   Sheriff's department deputies along with officers from Erwin Police Department conducted an extensive search of the area, lasting several hours, but were unable to locate the robber. Agents from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation were called in.
   According to the sheriff's department, witnesses said they saw a subject with a long gray beard get in to a gray-primer Chevrolet S-10.
   On April 27, a white male wearing a gray wig and half-mask on his face, entered Food City, 900 Broad St., around 11:35 p.m., and ordered everyone in the front of the store to "get down on the ground," or he would kill them.
   A store employee said the man commanded her to give him "just the large bills" from the cash registers and then demanded she open the store safes. He took the money from one safe, but left while the employee was attempting to open the second safe, threatening, "No one call the police for five minutes or I will shoot the whole place up."
   Following the robbery, Carter County Sheriff's Department Deputy Al Meehan became involved in a pursuit with a gray Landrover which fit the description of a vehicle that ran a motorist off the roadway near Food City around the same time Elizabethton Police Department officers were investigating the robbery.
   The driver of the Landrover plowed through two barbed-wire fences near McCloud Lumber Co. in Hampton and re-entered U.S. Highway 19E, traveling southbound, and eluded the officer.
   The robber was described as 6 feet to 6-feet-7 inches tall, weighing 200 to 220 pounds and wearing a blue mechanic's jumpsuit.
   Anyone with information about the store robberies is asked to call Unicoi County Sheriff's Department, 743-1850, or Elizabethton Police Department, 542-4141.