A Melbourne pharmacist has been hailed as a hero after fighting off robbers with a plastic training sword
But Sam Lee doesn’t advise that pharmacists try to take on violent criminals themselves, he told the AJP.
Mr Lee was watching TV with his wife in their apartment next door to his workplace, Your Pharmacy Caulfield Park, when an alarm went off outside.
“At the time I had just assumed it was a car alarm,” he said. “I didn’t even think it was our alarm – I just thought, ‘what’s making that racket?’ and looked out the window.
“But then my boss, Ivan [Grauer] rings me and informs me, ‘look out, our alarm’s been tripped, I’m on my way’. He lives down the road, so he wasn’t far away either. But he asked me, if I happened to be close to work, if I could check it out.
“This is a good 15-20 minutes since the alarm started going off. My assumption was that if there was a break-in, people would be in and out and they’d be gone by now.”
Still wearing his pyjamas, Mr Lee put on his jacket, grabbed a flashlight and then hesitated by the door.
“I’m about to go out, and I just think, ‘there’s been violent crimes around… I don’t think I’ll run into a situation, but just in case’,” he says.
“I grabbed my martial arts training sword. It’s made of a hard plastic. It was a bit silly, but it was the first thing that came to mind.
“I go downstairs and notice the glass of our front automatic door is all shattered, and there’s glass all over the street and the footpath.
“My first instinct was that I’d better get a picture, to get an idea of the extent of the damage. I peer in the front door, take a photograph and to my surprise, there’s a man inside looting things from the shelf.”
Mr Lee said he froze instantly, weighing up whether to use his phone to ring police or to take a picture of the intruder to help any investigation.
“Before I can make that decision, he’s looking at me, and he’s saying, ‘what are you doing?’ and advancing towards me.”
It was a “fight or flight” moment, Mr Lee said, and he chose to flee.
“I thought it would be better to run, and I tried to run away, but he was up close and he grabbed my arm – my phone hit the ground, my torch hit the ground, and there was a bit of a struggle.
“He held on, and I retreated backwards, but I managed to find an opening so that I could sprint away in the direction of my apartment, because I thought if I could get inside I could lock the door.
“But I tripped and fell. And there I am on the ground, and the attacker is very confident now – he picks up the torch to use as a club and advances towards me with it above his head, saying, ‘aha, I’ve got you now’. He was going to pin me down and bludgeon me with it.
“But I’ve got this training sword in my hand. So as he’s trying to get on top of me, I give him a few good hits on the side and the thigh.
“This allowed me to stand up and regain my composure. I was pointing the sword at him, he advanced forward and I gave him a strong hit on the head. This caused him to stagger back and start running away.
“I thought I’d better run away too! So I ran away, and at this point Ivan arrived – he and his wife were getting out of the car wondering what on earth was going on – and the police arrived too.
“First they made sure we were safe, and they were able to arrest two of the offenders, though there may have been four or five.”
The thieves had targeted the dispensary, which Mr Lee said was ransacked, with medicines scattered all over the floor and boxes stepped on.
The thieves attempted to access the safe and cash, but were unsuccessful. Instead, they stole a range of S3 drugs – particularly those containing pseudoephedrine and codeine.
“They had a big bag stuffed full of medications,” Mr Lee said. “They took eye drops. We wondered what on earth those were for. They stole bottles of Hydralyte. They stole fancy soap. They were probably just grabbing whatever, but there did seem to be a priority on drugs.”
Don’t try this at home
Despite having fought off one of the thieves – who was hospitalised under police guard – Mr Lee advised pharmacists not to try to be heroes when criminals target pharmacies.
“We have an assumption that robbers will quickly break in and run away as quickly as possible – but the CCTV footage shows that they lingered for a very long time,” he told the AJP.
“It wasn’t late. It was only 10pm. There were still people doing their laundry at the laundromat next door, and still people buying pizza at the pizzeria across the road.
“But these robbers went out and came back in to the pharmacy three or four times. They made repeat journeys.
“And we also assume, that when they’re spotted, people will try to flee. But in this case they decided to attack rather than run. They were clearly under the influence of drugs – they weren’t talking coherently, had slurred speech and the police officer said that when he caught one, he was wailing and seemed manic.
“So I went in there with two wrong assumptions: that the robbers would be gone, and that robbers would try to escape rather than attack.
“In this case, both those assumptions were wrong. I was extremely lucky, but there’s so many alternate scenarios where it could have gone wrong. The police said similar cases have been occurring but with guns, so I was extremely lucky they weren’t armed with something else.”
While Mr Lee plans to continue his hobby of martial arts – he has a background in Tae Kwon Do and Brazilian martial art capoeira – he says next time he’s aware that a pharmacy is being broken into, he’ll stay outside.
“If I ever find myself in a similar situation, I’ll try to react quicker and flee from the scene and let the police deal with it,” he says.
“If your alarm goes off and you suspect that people have broken in, it’s best not to approach – your merchandise is covered by insurance.
“Just stay safe.”
Readers who are distressed can contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910.