TRINITY — The man had a gun and wanted money. The 71-year-old woman was in her car, a dusky blue Chrysler 300 with a cross dangling from the rearview mirror, in the parking lot of Ross Dress for Less, just seven spaces from the front entrance, a few minutes after noon on a typical, busy Tuesday.
She said no.
So the man beat her in the head with the gun, cutting so deep her skull shone through, witnesses said.
A couple saw the commotion and tried to help the woman, according to authorities and people at the plaza at the southeast corner of Little Road and State Road 54. The man pointed the gun at the husband and demanded that the wife hand over the keys to their van. She did and the man sped off on the rain-slicked pavement.
Authorities say this same man picked up an accomplice — a woman or a man, it is not known at this time — and, about half an hour later, both tried to rob the Medicine Shoppe, a pharmacy in the shopping center at Duck Slough Boulevard and State Road 54, a few miles away from the first crime.
Here, the two people entered the store brandishing guns, asking for money and drugs. A staffer ran out the back door to call for help, witnesses said, and someone hit the panic button.
The pair had a gun pointed to the head of the pharmacist, Ben Benoit.
"I thought, 'They are going to blow me away' " no matter what I do, said Benoit.
So he fought, something his wife — who also works in the pharmacy and was inside during this ordeal — and friends later admonished him for doing. Afterward, they all stood by the crime scene tape around their store, shaking from the damp wind and nerves.
Benoit wrestled the gun — either a rifle or shotgun — away from one of the robbers, who fled the store, authorities said.
In the struggle, the gun went off but did not injure anyone. Benoit, who still wore his white lab coat as a forensics team scanned his shop, had a scratches on his face and neck.
The suspects are considered armed and dangerous and might still be using the stolen vehicle — a blue Dodge Caravan with an Ohio license plate BW54WS. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office is asking anyone with information about this pair to call authorities. There is no good description of the duo at this time.
The woman who was beaten at the Ross parking lot was taken to a hospital. Her condition was not available Tuesday evening. Witnesses said she was helped from her car to a bench outside the store to wait for an ambulance.
"It was bad," said Robert Rodriguez, a security guard at Ross. "There was blood everywhere."
Marie Inglese, 70, and her 81-year-old sister drove to Ross from Hudson and saw the scene.
"It's not safe to go anywhere, anymore," Inglese said. Her sister didn't want to give her name because she's scared, she said, tightly clutching her pink umbrella with both hands.
"I'm afraid," she said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected]