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Shooting victim tells harrowing tale of Auto Connection robbery

Auto Connection Owner Zaki Stwodah’s business has been robbed before during its approximately 20 years on West Third Street in Farmville, but never by an armed gunman in broad daylight.

Stwodah told his story about how he survived the July 16 armed robbery in which a man shot him in the leg and stole a BMW during a Monday, Aug. 3, phone interview.

Authorities are still looking for the suspect.

“We’ve been there almost 20 years,” he said of the business, noting his uncle ran it before him. “I’ve had some robberies (at nighttime), but I’ve never seen it like that.”

He shared details of the incident, noting he was alone at the business when it happened. It was hot out, so he left the door open to the office, came inside and sat down to do paperwork.

He said he looked outside and saw a tall African American man with a hat on and a coronavirus-related mask covering most of his face, including up close to his eyes. He also wore a Nike shirt and Nike tennis shoes.

“I thought it was a regular customer,” Stwodah said, but added that the man came into the office with a bad attitude. “I’ve never seen him before.”

The man expressed interest in a 2000 BMW 328, which belonged to Stwodah’s cousin who had brought it to the lot for a possible sale. Stwodah said he would need to check back the next day about that car.

“He said, ‘No, I need the car today,’” Stwodah recalled.

Stwodah said he apologized to the man and tried to offer him another car, but it ultimately did not work out, and the man said he liked the BMW, the one he later stole.

“So he said, ‘Can you give me the key? Give me the key,’” Stwodah recalled. “I said, ‘No. I’ll crank it for you. It ain’t my car.’ Then he listened to me. He said, ‘OK.’”

Stwodah said he started the car and then came back into the office.

“Next (thing) I know, he’s got a big pistol in his hand and put it on my head,” Stwodah said. “He said, ‘Give me your phone!’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Give me your phone, give me your phone, get in the back.’ So he took me in the back in my shop.”

The man bound Stwodah’s hand and foot using some wire and an extension cord, Stwodah said. The man asked him if he had some money, and Stwodah tried to tell him where it was.

“I said, ‘Please don’t kill me,’” Stwodah said.

There was some confusion between the man and Stwodah. He said the man conducted a search to find the money only to return empty-handed and frustrated.

“He said, ‘It’s not in here. Next time I go (if) I (can’t) find your wallet, I’m going to kill you,’” Stwodah said.

Stwodah said he could hear a customer arriving and speaking the next time the man went out. Stwodah seized on this opportunity.

“The customer saved me,” Stwodah said. “I heard talking. When I heard talking the second time he went after my money, then I got loose in 15 seconds.”

He escaped out the garage door of the building, but the man heard him.

“When I ran, he came behind me shooting and hit a bullet in my foot and stole the car,” Stwodah said.

Stwodah stated he went to the house of a lady who lived nearby behind his shop.

“She put two cold cloths on my leg (and) water,” he said. “My foot was bleeding, and she called the sheriff’s department, she called the ambulance, she called my cousin, everybody.”

Stwodah said the bullet did not hit a bone. It was extracted at Centra Southside Community Hospital and is now in the possession of the police.

He said a security camera captured the incident, and he also said the FBI will be coming to investigate this week.

“Since I was like 15 years old, I came to this country and went to high school in Cumberland, everything,” he said. “We ain’t had no problem, never had a problem with nobody.”

Prince Edward County Sheriff L.A. “Tony” Epps recently confirmed the search continues for the suspect in the armed robbery.

The suspect was last seen traveling north on Route 15 toward Buckingham.

“We are still searching for the suspect in the robbery and shooting at the Auto Connection,” Epps said.

The suspect, described as a black male, ranging approximately 6 feet to 6 feet, 3 inches in height and weighing 220-240 pounds, apparently did not leave behind a vehicle at the dealership. Epps said it appears the suspect walked there.

“We do not know if the suspect is still in the area or not,” the sheriff said.

Epps said his office has reached out to law enforcement across the state to assist in the search.

“We hope to have more information to pass along to the public very soon to help identify this suspect,” he said.