An armed jewelry store robbery allegedly committed by two Philadelphia men near Williamsburg, Va., last week went wrong on so many levels, it’s a wonder how Oxford Circle resident Eric D. Roach lasted more than two days on the lam.
But police captured Roach, 40, of the 6100 block of Alma St., shortly after 10 p.m. on Thursday along a stretch of railroad tracks just south of Richmond International Airport.
The arrest occurred without incident, authorities said, and ended a massive manhunt precipitated by the July 26 heist, a high-speed pursuit and a shoot-out that injured one Virginia state trooper and claimed the life of Roach’s alleged accomplice.
Basil Bilal Berry, 33, of the 1800 block of Ashley St. in West Oak Lane, also took part in the robbery, police say. He died last Thursday morning from gunshot wounds of the head and chest. Authorities have not said if police fired the fatal shots or if the wounds were self-inflicted.
The drama began just before 11 a.m. on June 26 when the hapless bandits, who both wore pantyhose over their faces and carried guns, burst into the Goodman & Sons Jewelry store in James City, the Williamsburg-Yorktown Daily reported.
The locale is a few miles west of Colonial Williamsburg on a long, narrow peninsula bounded by two major rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. There are few roads in or out.
The suspects allegedly zip-tied five people in the store and stole a loot of high-end watches and expensive jewelry, along with the victims’ keys and a mobile phone. No injuries were reported.
As police arrived, the suspects were seen fleeing the store in a black GMC Yukon with tinted windows and a Pennsylvania tag. Police notified neighboring municipalities to be on the lookout for the conspicuous getaway vehicle.
At about 11:45 a.m., Capt. Jayson Crawley of the sheriff’s department in tiny Charles City spotted the SUV with the Pa. plate traveling westbound on a desolate state route midway between Williamsburg and Richmond, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The suspects apparently chose not to take the lone, much busier interstate out of town.
“We’ve become sort of an escape route for criminals. They think they can get out in the country and no one is watching,” Crawley reportedly told the Richmond newspaper.
Crawley followed the suspects covertly in an unmarked sheriff’s car for miles before marked police cars joined the pursuit and the suspects allegedly floored it.
“They took off like a bat out of hell,” Crawley said.
In an attempt to escape as many as a dozen police cars and motorcycles, the suspects entered an interstate highway outside of Richmond, then diverted onto local roads, where they allegedly exchanged gunfire with their pursuers.
Speeds reached as high as 100 mph, authorities said. At one point in the chase, the SUV stopped and Roach fled on foot into woods, the Williamsburg paper reported.
Eventually, Berry crashed the getaway vehicle into the yard of a house and more gunfire ensued. But before officers could pull the suspect from the wreck, he sped off again.
Seconds later, Berry crashed again into a tree at the Library of Virginia’s state records center, the Times-Dispatch reported.
Berry was arrested without further violence. He died of his injuries two days later at a Richmond hospital.
One Virginia state trooper was injured “slightly” during the sequence, according to the Richmond newspaper, which did not specify how or when the injury occurred.
Police allegedly found the stolen jewelry in the wrecked getaway vehicle. And although Roach had earlier disappeared into the underbrush, he apparently left a calling card — his ID turned up at the crash scene.
Authorities soon issued a multistate bulletin featuring Roach’s mug shot and a plea for information about his whereabouts.
Roach didn’t make it very far. Shortly after 10 that night, police spotted him walking along a railroad about five miles from where they believe he left the escape vehicle. The fugitive surrendered without incident.
Investigators claim that Roach has made a habit of committing jewelry heists over the years.
He was released from federal prison in 2009 after serving 44 months for conspiracy and transporting stolen goods across state lines.
The case stemmed from a series of crimes in California, Nevada and Florida in 2001 and 2002 during which Roach and others stole more than $800,000 worth of high-end watches and gems.
Police in Upper Merion, Montgomery County, continue to investigate the possible involvement of Roach and Berry in a $500,000 watch heist at King of Prussia Mall on July 14.
Previously, Roach beat a 1989 murder rap in Philadelphia, but while awaiting trial in that case, he was involved in a jailhouse altercation that resulted in an aggravated assault charge against him. Roach pleaded guilty and was sentenced to up to 23 months in prison.
In Virginia, Roach now faces charges of abduction, eluding law enforcement and four firearms violations, including possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
He was arraigned Friday morning in Henrico County, outside of Richmond. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org