Windsor, Ont. pharmacist uses pool cue to fight off knife-wielding man demanding opioids
Sara Etemad-Rad was just trying to stall knife-wielding robber to give police more time to arrest him
With a knife-wielding man climbing over her raised pharmacy counter and demanding drugs, Sara Etemad-Rad calmly walked into the back room of her downtown Windsor drug store, promising to comply.
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But instead of returning with a stash of fentanyl patches and other opioids, she came out swinging.
With both hands wrapped around a worn pool cue she started hitting the man over the head until he ran off.
"Some people ask why I didn't point at his eyes, but I was not trying to kill him, I was just trying to make him leave," Etemad-Rad said. "So, I started beating him, basically. That's all I did."
Etemad-Rad knew it was just a matter of time before her small shop would be hit. The frequency of pharmacy robberies has steadily increased throughout the Windsor region to the point police and drug store owners now describe it as a crisis.
She'd been robbed before — once in 2013 and again in 2015. Though it had been a couple years since the last one, the latest stretch of attacks on drug stores was a good indication she would once again come face to face with a violent criminal.
"That made me wonder why they didn't come here yet," Etemad-Rad said about the persistent rash of robberies. "I was expecting it. I was so expecting it."
Preparing for the worst
But when her fear became a reality Monday, she didn't expect to take matters into her own hands. Earlier that morning, she talked with her staff about the spike in pharmacy robberies that started last summer.
They discussed new technologies that allow police to track the stolen drugs and talked about how they should always comply with the demands, instead of risking their own lives.
"I was joking with them, saying 'What are we going to do?'" Etemad-Rad said.
She proudly explains how her staff did everything right in the moment. One assistant discreetly pushed the panic button, while Etemad-Rad calmy explained to the man they had alerted police.
That's when the would-be robber tried to run behind the counter, only to realize he had no access. He then jumped up on the front of the raised counter, threatening to clamber over if he didn't get what he wanted.
That old pool cue
The worn pool cue had been hanging around the store for years. The previous pharmacy manager used to joke with Etemad-Rad that he kept it just in case customers got out of line.
"I thought, there would be no way I would attack somebody with this pool cue. It was always a joke to me to have it," she said.
Even though she anticipated getting robbed, she never once thought about fighting back during an attack. Reaching for the pool cue was something that just came to her in the moment.
"I could not imagine myself going to pharmacy school for many years, and working in this pharmacy, and thinking I want to beat up somebody with this," she said.
Etemad-Rad knew it would take time for police to arrive. If she could slow the man down, even for just a few moments, she suspected he would feel pressured and leave before things escalated.
Composure comes with experience
Etemad-Rad said she was able to keep her composure during the robbery because of her experience with similar situations. She and her colleagues still joke about the first time she was robbed at the store four years ago.
She was talking with a patient at the end of the counter when a slim man approached her and said, "I told you to put your hands up," Etemad-Rad recalled.
"I looked at him and I thought he was kidding me," she said.
That's when she turned to her technician and realized everyone in the store had their hands in the air.
"It was kind of hilarious. Really, we laugh about it now, but it was a disaster," she said.
That incident ended with the man getting away with everything he wanted and police never found him. That result did not sit well with Etemad-Rad, who blames herself for not doing enough to help.
"I didn't give police a chance to help me," she said "I could have made him wait ... or I could have called police a little sooner."
Since the first robbery, Etemad-Rad has since implemented several policies to protect employees. Every member of her staff has been instructed to pay attention to every person who walks in the store.
If they can identify suspicious people before they get to the counter, they can ready themselves to alert to police as soon as possible.
"That was the way I prevented the second robbery," Etemad-Rad said.
A man came into her store a couple years ago and placed a note on the counter. In a hurry, she scanned the paper quickly, reading the long list of opioids.
"I was thinking: why is this person taking so many narcotics?" she recalled, laughing at herself.
When she looked closer at the note, at the very top, she finally read the most important part: "This is a robbery."
She pretended to comply by walking away and calling police. She then returned and politely explained what she had done.
"Police are on their way. Do you want to stay or do you want to go?" she remembered asking at the time.
Panicked, the man left. But the pharmacist wasn't done there. She and her staff managed to identify the man and tracked him down on Facebook. They then gave the information to police and he was arrested.
Despite her experiences, Etemad-Rad does not recommend fighting back against robbers. She said each pharmacist must do what they're comfortable with, which may involve simply handing over the drugs and staying safe.