SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (Debora Villalon) - For the second time this month, a marijuana business in the North Bay has been hit by gun-toting robbers, and investigators think it might be the same suspects.
Both times, a female employee was targeted as she got in her car to leave.
Sunday's robbery at a dispensary on Hampton Way in west Santa Rosa was especially bold, in the middle of the day.
"Like around 1 to 1:30, I heard the lady screaming," auto mechanic Miguel Murillo told KTVU, at his job across the street from Alternatives Health Collective.
"She screamed very loud, and shouted 'what are you doing?," recounted Murillo.
He didn't see the robber, but a few security cameras did capture images of a slim man, dressed in black, walking to a silver BMW 7-series sedan.
He got in the passenger seat; a second suspect was driving.
They drove away away with about 200 pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes, that were in a bag, carried by the employee who had just left Alternatives and crossed the parking lot to her car.
"These things tend to be almost instantaneous and catch people off guard," Sonoma County Sheriff's Dept Lt. Tim Duke told KTVU.
"My best guess is they're casing the place, they've seen the comings and goings of employees, or have some familiarity with the business."
The incident is similar to a robbery on Aug. 4, about seven miles away near the Sonoma County airport.
In that case, an employee at an unmarked marijuana distribution center was leaving for the night about 7 p.m., when she was surprised in her car at gunpoint.
The robber forced her back into the closed facility to open the safe so the two men could empty it of cash. She had her wrists and ankles bound with zip ties, but was not injured. Neither was Sunday's victim.
"She was traumatized, as anyone would be in these circumstances," noted Lt. Duke, "but over time, she gave us information that we need, and there's a lot of follow-up that we're doing."
The Sheriff's Department is working on enhancing their surveillance images for more clarity, to better identify the man.
He is described as Latino or African American, in his late 20's, 5'10" tall.
Monday, Alternatives Health Collective remained very busy, with a steady stream of patients, unaware of the robbery.
"This is the only place I ever go to, it's my favorite place in the entire world," said one unidentified client who paused on her way out.
Nearby businesses say the dispensary is a good neighbor, but wonder if a security fence or guard might be a good idea.
"They need to, because there's so many people coming in," said Murillo, "and anyone can come over there and try to get money."
For law enforcement, it is an ongoing challenge: protecting pot operations which are ripe for robbers.
"They don't have to do the work, processing and harvesting," observed Lt. Duke, "and they literally show up and take advantage of someone who's done the work."
The car in the earlier robbery was a Honda sedan, but both the Honda and BMW had paper dealer license plates.
Employees at Alternatives deferred questions to the business owner
Reached by phone, proprietor Karen Kissler declined to discuss details of the incident, and in a subsequent e-mail described the armed robbery as a "parking lot theft", and expressed gratitude to the Sheriff's Department for "their immediate response and thorough investigation."
Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to call the sheriff's office at (707) 565-2121.