Oxford Circle man suspected in Virginia jewelry heist

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 bkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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