Bad day for a bank robbery
The robbers had a fake gun. The heroes had a garbage truck and a rolling pin.
By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published July 14, 2006
TAMPA - The bank robbers had a getaway car, a creative disguise and a fake gun.
What they didn't count on was the big blue recycling truck, the 5-pound rolling pin, the smoking money and the flat tire.
Also overlooked: the fact that it's hard for a bicyclist wearing a bright red motorcycle helmet, a blue rain jacket and gardening gloves to, say, blend in.
The two men failed miserably in their midday attempt to rob the Bank of America at 249 S Hyde Park Ave. Thursday.
Tampa police arrested Paul Aitken, 46, of 11123 N Nebraska Ave., after a sequence of events that might otherwise inspire a bad sitcom writer. Police were still searching for a second man.
Uwe Scherruble, 40, was busy picking up cardboard bales from behind Walgreens and loading them in his giant Land O'Lakes Recycling garbage truck about 3 p.m.
The bicyclist who pedaled past him seemed a little out of place with his red motorcycle helmet and blue rain jacket. "Weird," Scherruble thought.
A cook inside NOLA Cafe just across the way noticed the bicyclist, too.
Taylor Walker, 19, looked on from the restaurant. The fellow on the bicycle talked with the driver of a red Chevy Cavalier while donning the odd outfit, tying a black bandana around his head before pulling the helmet over his face.
"He looked like a clown. ... We just assumed it was another crazy guy from this area," Walker said.
Police say the bicyclist, described as 50 to 60 years old with a medium build and a large potbelly, rode across Hyde Park Avenue to the Bank of America.
He dropped his bike, entered the bank, brandished a gun, jumped the counter, pushed the teller aside and filled a black bag with cash.
Then, he climbed over the counter again, dropped his Glock - which turned out to be a toy gun - ran back to his bicycle and peddled back to the Chevy.
Scherruble, the trash collector, was just about to pick up the last of his six bails of cardboard when he saw the bicyclist come spinning back, and noticed red smoke pouring out of a black laptop bag the man was carrying.
"What's up with that?" Scherruble thought, then flashed back to the time a gunman held up his fiance while she was working as a bank teller. "I put two and two together and I said, 'He robbed something.' "
Scherruble didn't hesitate.
He moved his truck to block the Chevy as the bicyclist was shedding his helmet, bike and sunglasses, climbing into the car.
Then, living out a common garbage truck driver fantasy, he said, Scherruble lowered his front dump attachment on top of the passenger's side of the car, crushing its fender and flattening its front right tire.
"I finally had that chance," he later said of the car smashing. "I put it to good use."
Inside the cafe, Walker, the cook, saw the commotion. The Chevy Cavalier began backing up and jerking forward to try to escape, and Walker worried the robbers would ram his blue Jeep parked nearby.
He grabbed his 2-foot rolling pin, ran out of the restaurant and began pounding the car's hood with his heavy culinary tool, screaming for the man to stay away from his car.
The loot, stained red with the potent dye pack that banks use to help track stolen money, swirled through the air. David Costa, owner of Eagle Cleaners, ran out of his dry cleaning shop and shouted to an employee to call police.
The Chevy managed to escape despite the flat tire and the blockade, leaving behind the cash, bike and helmet, police and witnesses said.
As Costa and his customer, Tracey Delk, began gathering the cash for police, the getaway car hobbled north on S Plant Ave., Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. The robbers abandoned the vehicle at W Grand Central and S Magnolia avenues.
Officers found Aitken a few blocks away. Aitken, who was wearing a Ku Klux Klan T-shirt when arrested, has a long history of arrests including battery, burglary, marijuana possession, fraud, larceny and driving with a suspended license. He was charged with robbery.
Police were still searching for the bicyclist, who they said was wearing a green jumpsuit over faded jeans.
The bank robbery was the first in Tampa this year, McElroy said. "These do not appear to be experienced bank robbers," she said.
When it was all over, the cook went back to work, using his now paint-scarred rolling pin for more scrumptious endeavours.
And the recycling truck driver went home to Port Richey, a hero to frustrated garbage truck drivers everywhere.
Times photographer Daniel Wallace and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at 813 226-3383 or email@example.com.