Taxi driver remanded over Woodlands Hospital robbery

– claims car was hijacked at gunpoint

A man accused of robbing a cashier at Woodlands Hospital of $1.1 million and a BlackBerry cellphone was today remanded to prison when he appeared before Chief Magistrate Priya Sewnarine-Beharry.

Taxi driver Michael Lewis, 38, of Lot 65 Sheriff Street, who claimed he was held at gunpoint and his car hijacked by whoever might be the actual perpetrator, denied having any involvement in the July 1 robbery.

Prosecutor Vernette Pindar told the court that the case against the accused rests on allegations that he, together with another, while armed with a gun robbed Sattie Persaud, a clerk in the Accounts Department of the hospital, of the cash and her BlackBerry cellphone.

In a recount of the facts, Pindar said that the complainant had been proceeding to the Accounts Department with the $1.1 million in a black bag when the defendant came up and took it away, along with the cellphone, ran out of the compound and boarded a black Raum motorcar parked some distance away and drove off with someone in it.

The prosecutor said that based on information received the police were able to follow and track the defendant to the seawalls where he was apprehended.

Attorney Gordon Gilhuys, in an application for reasonable bail, put to the court that the defendant “was never there [at the hospital]” and the wrong person had been charged.

According to counsel, the father of three was plying his trade along Carmichael Street when someone came up and held him at gunpoint and demanded that he drive them to Bourda.

Counsel said that the defendant went to the Brickdam Police Station to report the matter but was subsequently arrested and charged with the Woodlands robbery after the police there did not believe his story.

The defendant told the magistrate that contrary to what the prosecution submitted, he was not arrested at the seawall, but rather, it was after he reported the hijacking of his car that he was held at the station.

Counsel further advanced that the situation is one of “common sense”.

He said it would have been more plausible for the defendant to park in New Market Street or somewhere nearby to the hospital instead of such a distance away.

In addition, counsel advanced that no ID parade was conducted to ascertain the perpetrator was actually his client.

The prosecutor objected to bail, telling the court that there was a statement on record from the investigating rank who arrested the defendant, which does not support the defendant’s contentions.

However, when the magistrate asked, the court heard that investigations were not complete.

After hearing the submissions and examining the statement from the investigating rank, the magistrate remanded the defendant to prison.

The matter was adjourned until July 19 for filing of statements.

Lewis is alleged to be one of the two men who entered the hospital compound sometime around 8.30 am on July 1, pretending to be patients.

The staff said they did not appear suspicious at first. However, the bandits later ran up to the Accounts Department and accosted the cashier.

Stabroek News was told that since it had been a holiday, the downstairs cashier was not open prompting suspicion by staff and hospital officials that the robbery may have been planned.

A member of staff, who was by the canteen when the robbery occurred, said he heard the commotion and saw two men run out of the compound in opposite directions. He said the men appeared to be armed.

The staff member, who asked not to be named, said the police were called, but didn’t arrive until much later. He said the officers were heavily armed and they questioned hospital administration and the cashier. He told reporters, “They must’ve scouted the area because it’s a holiday and downstairs wasn’t open so they had to know where the money was being kept.”

He said, “Both men walked in like normal and went to the Accounts Department; nothing looked out of ordinary. Then people start yelling and both the men run out and one go suh and the other went the opposite way.”

When Stabroek News spoke to residents of the area they reported hearing staff yelling that there was a robbery, but said they did not realise that the hospital itself was looted. Neighbours said the area is dangerous; thieves on small motorcycles and bicycles have been known to rob staff at night and in the early morning hours when doctors and nurses’ shifts change.





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