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Recovering addict tackles suspect, foils armed robbery of New Port Richey pharmacy

George Ghali, 30, says he gave the man hydrocodone instead of oxycodone because the oxycodone is in a safe.

Erin Sullivan | Times

George Ghali, 30, says he gave the man hydrocodone instead of oxycodone because the oxycodone is in a safe.

NEW PORT RICHEY — After he left the Dollar General, Brandon Spencer walked over to the pharmacy, where he hoped the nice brothers who ran it would let him use the bathroom.

As he opened the door, a man rushed out toward him. Spencer thought the bandanna covering the man's face made him look "like a Western-style dude."

"Stop him!" Spencer heard the pharmacist and his brother shout. "He's a thief!"

So Spencer did. He grabbed the man and threw him against the glass front of Elfers Pharmacy and struggled with him past the Little Caesars next door and got him on the ground near Rent King. The video surveillance tape shows no hesitation, no stunned pause of asking, "What?" He just heard the call for help and wanted to do the right thing.

He didn't know the man had a gun.

The pharmacy wasn't even supposed to be open after 6 p.m., but the brothers were waiting Monday evening on a customer who called to say she was running late. The robber sauntered into the tiny store on State Road 54, walked past the counter and into the back. He pointed a silver revolver at Joseph Ghally, the 32-year-old owner and pharmacist, and demanded oxycodone. Ghally's brother — George Ghali, 30, who also works there — gave the man two bottles of hydrocodone instead, because the oxies are locked in a safe and he figured the thief wouldn't know the difference until he was gone.

The brothers chased the robber outside. Spencer wrestled with the man, who waved his gun. Spencer said he grabbed the revolver with both hands and pried it from the thief. The gun turned out to be empty. The brothers helped restrain the man as they waited for deputies.

"Please let me go," Ghali said the man said.

"No, you walked into my pharmacy with a gun," Ghali said. "This is what you get."

Spencer said the robber kept fighting and trying to get away.

"I'm going to hit you if you don't stop," Spencer said he told the man.

The man still thrashed.

"So I pistol-whipped him," Spencer said.

"He stayed down" after that, bleeding from the head, Ghali said.

Spencer thought the man was an addict. He was angry that the man would do this — but he also understood. Spencer, 27, is a recovering Oxycodone addict. He said he never robbed anyone, but he was arrested on charges of driving with a suspended license, larceny and battery.

"People do a lot of stupid things in active addiction," he said.

Spencer has been clean for a year and a half. He and his girlfriend have a child together. He's working part time building fences and wants a full-time job, something indoors, out of the heat. He wants to go back to school. He hopes the suspect — whom authorities say is Jason L. Taylor, a 39-year-old from New Port Richey — gets help.

"I hope he learns his lesson and becomes something better when he gets out," Spencer said.

Taylor was charged with robbery with a deadly weapon. He was held at the Pasco County Jail in lieu of $50,000 bail. This is his first arrest in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Spencer said he didn't consider not stopping the robber.

"I don't feel like no hero or nothing like that. I just did what I did," he said. "I acted on instinct."

This is the second robbery at the store, which has been open for 15 months. The first was a man with a knife who escaped with 23 oxycodone pills. That case remains unsolved.

The brothers plan to build a wall of bullet-proof glass at the counter. But they aren't shaken.

"We're fine," Ghali said.

When that late customer showed up Monday — after Taylor was in custody, and deputies were still at the scene — the brothers still filled her prescription.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at or (727) 869-6229.

Recovering addict tackles suspect, foils armed robbery of New Port Richey pharmacy 06/08/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 8, 2010 10:48pm]
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