by Jim Boyle
The suspect in a Oct. 29, 2012, armed robbery of the BP gas station in Elk River has plead guilty to the crime.
Zachary Tyler Owens, 21, who previously worked for the gas station and lived less than a mile from it, entered his plea to aggravated robbery in the first degree on May 9 in Sherburne County 10th District Court.
Owens, who remains in jail on $100,000 bail, faces up to 57 months in prison based on state sentencing guidelines. The prosecution has said it will ask for a four-year prison term, according to Deputy Sherburne County Attorney Samuel Wertheimer. Owens’ legal counsel can ask for less at the sentencing hearing slated for 8 a.m. July 26.
Wertheimer said state sentencing guidelines for an individual without a criminal history, as in the case with Owens, can be sentenced to between 41 months to 57 months in prison.
Steve Schiminsky, the facilities manager at the gas station and convenience store, said he feels some relief in getting this news.
“I’m glad he admitted to it,” he said. “He was a former employee of ours. He unfortunately went off the deep end into his own little world.”
It was about 8 p.m. Oct. 29 at the BP station when the lone clerk, a 22-year-old woman, heard the door open, according to the criminal complaint.
She told police she was on her knees counting cigarettes and when she looked up she observed a masked man pointing a gun at her. She stated he ordered her to get into the office and onto the ground, the complaint said.
The masked man then allegedly went into the back office area where a safe was located. He then could be heard emptying two cash registers before fleeing the store.
The clerk pushed the hold-up alarm and called 911. Owens made off with $1,110 in cash and $30 in Newport 100 short cigarettes, the complaint said.
Police got dispatched at 8:12 p.m. The clerk gave a physical description and said he had what she believed to be black, semi-automatic gun.
Police came across a 13-year-old juvenile Elk River male who was stopped but determined not to be involved in the crime. They never found Owens.
That is until they got a tip. The investigation picked up steam when police interviewed a relative about statements Owens had made. The relative agreed to make a tape-recorded phone call to the defendant that could be monitored by police.
In that call, the defendant stated he used to work at the BP gas station in Elk River and because of that he knew the surveillance cameras were not active and money was kept in a safe that was often unlocked.
He went on to describe how he committed the crime with the use of an air pistol which had been painted to make it appear as a real pistol.
He also mentioned in the phone call that he had entered the store prior to the robbery and spoke with the clerk and bought at pack of cigarettes.
He stated his motive for the robbery was he needed money, the complaint said.
An Elk River Police detective confirmed that Owen had previously worked at the store. Schiminsky said the company had let him go about two months before the robbery.
Schiminski said the Elk River BP station has beefed up its security measures in the wake of the robbery.
“We’ve made major changes and upgrades to our security,” Schiminski said. “We want to make sure everyone is feeling comfortable.”