NORTH PORT — Law enforcement officials are looking closely at similarities between at recent two holdups at gas stations in the area.
They fit a pattern that has developed up and down the west coast of Florida.
In the first, in the predawn hours of Aug. 3, four men burst into a service station on Toledo Blade Boulevard in North Port, threatening an employee, and then leaving the Circle K with bags of cigarette cartons and some cash.
In the second, which occurred about 2:30 a.m. Thursday, four men robbed a 7-Eleven convenience store on Venice Avenue in Venice. Like the Circle K robbery 12 days earlier, the group made off with cigarette cartons and cash.
Venice Police Department Captain Eric Hill said they suspect the robberies are all connected because two hours after the Venice store was held up, four men held up a convenience store in Bradenton in a similar manner.
Police believe a gang of four men is involved and agencies in Florida and outside the state are actively investigating, according to North Port Police Commander of Criminal Investigations Mike Laden.
“There are 15 to 20 agencies currently working on this case,” he said. “We know these people are not from the immediate area, but from outside the area.”
Laden supervises North Port detectives actively working the case.
In most of the robberies, the four threatened store personnel, focused on the cartons of cigarettes in the store and are believed to have fled on Interstate 75.
Both local robberies took place in the predawn hours.
The Toledo Blade robbery on Aug. 3 was followed 90 minutes later by a similar heist in Bradenton along I-75, according to authorities. The North Port crime took place just before 4 a.m. at the Circle K at 1060 Plantation Blvd., according to a North Port police report.
A worker was cleaning a grill in the store when the men came in, according to North Port police spokesperson Josh Taylor. They ordered him around, Taylor noted, and threatened to shoot the worker if he followed them out of the store — but no weapon was displayed.
The men were described as black and wearing hoodies “pulled tightly over their face,” a news release states.
Surveillance footage shows the four wearing red or orange hoodies, with one man wearing a blue hoodie. A few of them wore black shorts while the others wore black athletic pants.
Authorities said, in that crime, the suspects drove away in a gray or silver Kia or Nissan four-door sedan.
Store workers in both robberies were threatened not to follow the men outside, but no weapon was displayed in either holdup.
In the Venice robbery, the surveillance shows them wearing athletic clothing or jackets covering their faces in a variety of ways.
It is said the men involved in that crime left in a silver sedan.
To see the video of the crime, visit yoursun.com.
“Certainly conversations are taking place (among police agencies),” said Josh Taylor, a spokesman for the North Port Police Department. “Similar robberies are taking place along the west coast of Florida.”
Anyone with information on the four men are asked to dial 911.