A-gas-t: Sale, robbery rock station

By Mythili Rao

Recent weeks have been a trial for Vasantha Thaliyil and her husband, Mohan, newcomers to Charlottesville who operate the Chevron gas station at the corner of Ivy Road and Emmet Street.

In early July, Thaliyil says, she and her husband learned from a Daily Progress article that their station and the .19 acre lot on which it sits, both owned by Anderson Oil Company, had been purchased by the University of Virginia Real Estate Foundation in June.

Then, on Thursday, July 18, two armed men entered the station, tied up the lone employee on duty, and robbed the cash register of more than $1,000. Store employee Shivaram Gondi says the incident began around 6:30pm when two men approached the station. One entered and bought a Sprite while the other waited outside.

Within 45 minutes, Gondi says, both returned and purchased candy and sodas. When Gondi opened the cash register, one of the men pulled a knife. One man led Gondi to a back room, held a knife to his throat, and used tape to tie the employee's hands behind his back. Meanwhile, the other locked the station doors. The assailants demanded to know how to open the cash register and took Gondi's keys to the front door.

"I was scared to death," Gondi says.

When a customer entered to make a purchase, Gondi says, the robbers pretended to be store employees and told the customer to take the product for free because the cash register was broken.

Thaliyil, who leases the station from Anderson with her husband and a third business partner, Ramesh Patel, arrived to work at the station just before 7:30pm from her day job at Kroger.

Surprised to find Gondi nowhere in sight, Thaliyil asked the man behind the counter– who had opened the cash register– where the employee was. "He said, 'I am the employee here,'" Thaliyil recalls.

When Thaliyil reached for the phone on the pretense that her car had broken down, the man panicked and grabbed her hand to stop her. After she ran out of the station, he locked the door behind her.

While Thaliyil was asking customers in the parking lot to call the police, the men emptied the cash register, which Gondi estimates contained $800-$1,000, and a second box containing $220.

The men also took $100 from Gondi's wallet as well as his driver's license, van keys, and a copy of the store key.

Thaliyil says that as police arrived, the two men ran towards the Lambeth Field apartment parking lot. "I chased after them until I was out of breath," she says. A police officer completed the chase.

Gondi says one man managed to escape to a parked car by climbing over a fence. The second, Cory James Cormican, was not so nimble: police apprehended him hiding behind a truck.

Cormican, 18, who is white, had been kicked out of his house because of problems with his aunt, according to Detective Paul Best of the Charlottesville Police Department. Both Cormican and the second suspect, a black man approximately 20 years old, are from Philadelphia. The men were passing through town, Best explains, and had run out of money.

Cormican fell and injured his hand during his unsuccessful escape attempt. He was taken to University Hospital, and is now in jail awaiting a preliminary district court hearing scheduled for August 2. He could not be reached for comment.

Police recovered the kitchen knife the men used in the hold-up, but are still searching for the second suspect. Cormican has been charged with armed robbery, says Best.

Tim Rose of the University of Virginia Real Estate Foundation says that UVA officials were concerned about the event, but only from afar.

"We're not involved in any way with what goes on there, and we don't have a right to be involved in it," says Rose. Until 2011, the gas station will continue to operate as is. After that, Rose says, officials plan to demolish the gas station and plant grass on the site.

Gondi says he hopes the Thaliyil's insurance will help recover the loss.

"I'm just grateful no one was hurt," he says.

An earlier version of this story first appeared on the Hook website on July 25, 2002.