It might only have been ten days before Halloween, but that did not stop a masked man from spreading terror inside a local Pelham Bay business.
Lehigh Wines and Liquors, at 2929 Westchester Avenue, was the site of a brazen armed robbery on Tuesday, October 21.
At 7 p.m., a male suspect wearing a face mask, hoodie, and gloves entered the liquor store and proceeded to jump the counter.
The disguised assailant produced a black handgun, possibly a semi-automatic, and held it to the cashier’s head demanding she empty the register. The cashier, a young mother, was visibly pregnant with her second child.
The man made off with $1,000 and a bottle of vodka, saying “have a good night” as he exited. Within seconds, police arrived, but faced an unexpected problem. Construction materials running along Westchester Avenue from the ongoing Buhre Avenue IRT 6 train station prevented them from accessing Lehigh.
A security chain link fence taking up half of the sidewalk and the absence of street lighting aided the robber’s escape.
According to Albert Neira, the store’s owner, the suspect fled down the block and turned the corner. It is believed he escaped into a getaway vehicle waiting in that location.
“I’m in business for 37 years here and we never had any incident, any kind of robbery at all at the store and certainly not at gunpoint,” said Neira.
“What was taken from the store is incidental. What’s more important is that nobody was hurt and I am outraged at the fact that this person felt that he could come into the store and point a gun at a young woman’s head, who happens to be pregnant, that works for me, and just felt free that he could do something like this.”
The robbery has not gone unnoticed.
“It’s distressing any time a situation like the one that happened at Lehigh takes place in our neighborhood,” expressed Assemblyman Michael Benedetto. “I’m waiting on more details from both the 45th Precinct and the MTA about this incident, but I have been in contact with both. I’m really glad no one was hurt in this robbery, but we don’t want to see anyone else subjected to this kind of situation here again.”
Benedetto has called the MTA and is waiting on a response regarding the construction materials’ placement on Westchester Avenue while seeking a more convenient access to the Westchester Avenue stores.
“It’s being investigated,” explained James McGeown, captain at the 45th Precinct. “The detective squad is conducting a very thorough investigation into this incident.”
“The construction conditions on Buhre Avenue clearly contributed to making this liquor store an easy target for the thief,” stated Senator Jeffrey Klein.
“I plan to work with the MTA to ensure that lighting is installed so that the store owners, employees, and residents in this area can feel safe and protected while this construction continues.”
“We’ve asked the contractor, Yonkers Construction Company, Inc., and they will be installing additional lighting along the avenue and the local community board district manager has reached out to the captain of the 45th Precinct to have an officer assigned to the area,” explained Marisa Baldeo, MTA spokeswoman.
Baldeo confirmed the project’s completion is scheduled for February.
Lehigh Wines & Liquors and tother businesses on Westchester Avenue thanked Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.’s Office; Kenneth Kearns, district manager of Bronx Community Board 10; and Jacqueline Carter, assistant director at MTA NYC Transit for their immediate response and for adding extra lighting along the construction project addressing some of the safety concerns raised.
They also thanked the 45th Precinct for their swift response follow through.