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    Robber sought in pair of Pasco bank heists

    Robberies in Holiday and Port Richey bring the total number of west Pasco bank holdups to five in the past week.

    By TAMARA LUSH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2001


    NEW PORT RICHEY -- A man with a beard and a ponytail robbed the Bank of America on U.S. 19 in Holiday shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday, and all he saw was red.

    As he drove away from the bank in a silver station wagon, he pawed through the bag of money. A witness said a dye pack, placed in the money bag by a teller, exploded and splattered throughout the car.

    The robber threw the ink-stained cash out the window -- and decided to rob another bank, authorities said.

    At 11:26 a.m., the same man robbed the Union Planters Bank on U.S. 19 in Port Richey, right in front of Gulf View Square Mall.

    "(He's) brazen or desperate or just hungry," said Maj. Maurice Radford of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. "It's hard to say what his situation is."

    Tuesday's robberies bring the number of bank holdups in west Pasco to five in the past week. Last year, there were 26 bank robberies in Pasco.

    In each of the recent robberies, there have been no injuries and no arrests, despite extensive manhunts. On Tuesday, a sheriff's helicopter buzzed the skies above U.S. 19, and deputies stopped anyone driving a silver station wagon in hopes of finding the bandit.

    Because so many deputies were searching for the robber -- authorities were dusting for fingerprints at the first bank when the call came in for the second robbery -- there was nearly an hourlong delay in responding to several non-priority calls to the Sheriff's Office, Radford said. Last week, there were nearly 1,000 calls for service to the agency, Radford said.

    Authorities aren't sure whether Tuesday's robberies are linked to last week's holdups, but descriptions of all five scenarios are similar: The bandit hands a teller a note and runs off with the cash.

    Radford said that in most local bank robberies, the suspect makes off with only a few hundred to a thousand dollars in cash. Authorities aren't saying specifically how much was taken in each robbery.

    The first robbery happened Tuesday, Feb. 13, in New Port Richey. City police said a man with a Fu Manchu mustache robbed the Republic Bank at 6500 Massachusetts Ave.

    On Thursday, the SunTrust Bank at 1424 Seven Springs Blvd. in New Port Richey was robbed. Later that day, the SouthTrust bank at 3535 U.S. 19 in Holiday was hit.

    On Tuesday, the Bank of America at 2123 U.S. 19 was robbed, and the Union Planters Bank at 9431 U.S. 19 was held up an hour and 10 minutes later.

    During Tuesday's robberies, witnesses said the brown-haired man was about 30 years old, 6 feet tall and weighed 170-180 pounds. He was wearing a green and tan baseball cap, a blue flannel jacket, white T-shirt and blue jeans. He drove away from the first robbery in what looked like a silver Taurus or Saturn station wagon.

    He handed the teller at Bank of America a note, received the cash, and took the note back, said officials. He did the same thing at the Union Planters Bank. It is unclear whether he used the same note in both robberies.

    Radford said the robber might have red-stained clothes or hands because of the exploding dye pack.

    Authorities ask that anyone with information about these bank robberies call Sgt. Charlie Calhoun at (800) 854-2862, ext. 7723.

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