A lottery booth clerk in Nanaimo is recovering from being pepper sprayed.
The incident happened shortly before 10 a.m., Tuesday, when a man walked up to the B.C. Lotto booth in Nanaimo North Town Centre, jumped the counter, shoved the clerk to the floor and pepper sprayed her.
It is the second pepper-spray attack against a lottery booth clerk in Nanaimo in less than a month.
Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said witnesses told police the woman was sprayed for about 15 seconds before the man fled through the mall and out the east entrance.
“He got nothing,” O’Brien said. “He jumped back over the counter and booked it. He was chased by two people, one being a mall worker.”
The worker gave up the chase when the assailant sprayed him.
The lotto booth clerk, Lise Villeneuve, 47, was treated by paramedics and taken home by lottery booth franchise owner Darius Paterkowski.
A third man affected by the spraying during the chase was also tended to by paramedics, who also checked at least six elderly people who inhaled pepper spray as the suspect ran through the mall.
Several businesses around the lottery booth and the suspect’s flight route were closed until the air was cleared.
A police dog was unable to establish a track on the suspect because of the heavy foot traffic in the mall and the widely dispersed pepper spray.
“The suspect was seen coming in the mall with big thick black sunglasses on and then what alerted people’s suspicions is that he was pulling his hoodie up at the same time,” O’Brien said.
The suspect is Caucasian, in his mid-20s, approximately six-foot-two and wearing a dark gray hoodie, dark pants, black bandana or balaclava, and black sunglasses.
Police are reviewing video security tapes from several stores in the mall for clues.
O’Brien said Mounties are looking at similarities between this attack and one in which a clerk and several other people were pepper sprayed during the attempted robbery of a lottery booth at Country Club Centre Oct. 3.
A 26-year-old Nanaimo man was arrested on suspicion of committing that crime, but charges against him were dropped when he could not be positively identified by witnesses.
“That file is still active,” O’Brien said.
He said police are not worried this might have been a copy cat crime, but characterized the attack as brazen and that police are not certain if the suspect actually attempted to take anything from the booth.
Pepper spray was used in Nanaimo robberies before, but prior to these two incidents police have not seen it used in a mall or to fend off bystanders who tried to intervene.
Pepper spray irritates eyes, the respiratory system and skin, causing coughing, tearing and a severe burning sensation. It’s effects last about 45 minutes. After-effects can include headaches.
“You have to get fresh air and have it flushed out with a saline solution – that’s all you can do,” O’Brien said. “A lot of [police officers] say they’d rather be hit with a Taser than with pepper spray.”