By Michael Regan
Niagara Gazette — Armed robbers hit the Lumber City for the second time in less than a week Monday, holding up the Able Insurance Agency on Erie Avenue in a late-afternoon strike.
Police are now investigating the possibility that the incident may be linked to a rash of armed robberies in Western New York now totaling more than 20 since Dec. 24, including one Jan. 23 at the 7-Eleven convenience store on Niagara Falls Boulevard.
Police Capt. Tom Krantz said two white males entered the insurance agency's small building at 4:47 p.m. Monday, one bearing a handgun and demanding cash, before both individuals escaped the daylight heist on foot, possibly to a waiting vehicle.
Officers responded to a 911 call in less than a minute, indicating that the two men — described at having medium builds and heights and dressed in dark clothing with ski masks covering their faces — may have left in a getaway vehicle.
"Our first officer was there without exaggeration in less than a minute ... about 30 to 40 seconds," Krantz said. "It was immediate."
Employees of the insurance agency were not injured, he added, while the thieves fled with an undisclosed sum of cash. Requests for interviews from the owner of the establishment were not immediately answered.
The robbery was a shift from many of the other recent crimes, which have predominantly targeted convenience stores in the late-evening and early-morning hours. It also varied with two individuals conducting the robbery rather than one.
However, the trademark of wearing darker clothing and masks followed the status quo, according to Krantz, who was quick to point out that while investigators believe there's strong evidence that the various robberies are related, it's still to early to tell for certain.
"It appears it may be related to our recent 7-eleven robbery," Krantz said. "We believe it may also be related to a number of other robberies in the area."
The investigation now involves police agencies from across the region, spanning from Medina and Middleport to the Tonawandas, Niagara Falls and Amherst, while state police are also assisting.
North Tonawanda police are asking the public to remain on the lookout for suspicious vehicles and encouraged them to be vigilant as the focus of the robberies may be less predictable.
"If anybody has a business and we don't care what kind of business and they see a suspicious vehicle call us right away," Krantz said.
For those who may have information on the individuals involved police ask residents to call 692-4312.