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3 men held in Heritage Bank heist

Two deputies chase the suspects and arrest them within 200 yards of the bank after two people report the holdup.

[Times photo: Dan McDuffie]
Deputy Jason Sarne, center, detains an unidentified robbery suspect as another officer looks on Tuesday at the Heritage Bank in Willow Bend Towne Centre in Land O'Lakes. The suspect is one of three men held after the Heritage Bank robbery.

By RYAN DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2001


LAND O'LAKES -- Pasco County sheriff's Deputies Steve Cryoskie and Jason Sarne were pulling their patrol cars into Willow Bend's Chevron station Tuesday afternoon when a car pulled up to theirs.

The bank next door was being robbed, the man and woman in the car told them.

The deputies saw a man run from Heritage Bank, 23000 State Road 54, and jump into a black Ford Escort.

At 3:18 p.m. the deputies both took off after the car, out of the shopping center and east on SR 54. Within 200 yards of the bank, the chase was over.

[Times photo: Dan McDuffie]
Crime scene technician Sue Miller and Deputy Steve Cryoskie, above, collect evidence from a car driven by three bank robbery suspects in Land O'Lakes on Tuesday.

Three men were arrested, one charged with robbery, while the others were charged with being a principal to a robbery, sheriff's spokesman Jon Powers said. Deputies were not releasing the suspects' names Tuesday night.

An undisclosed amount of cash was taken from the bank, Powers said. It was recovered.

For more than an hour and a half the Ford Escort was parked, with both doors wide open, in an eastbound lane of SR 54 as the men were questioned and evidence from their car was placed in brown paper bags.

Investigators also pulled a second license plate off the back of the car.

Lt. Bruce Schmelter said this is the first time in his 25 years with the Sheriff's Office that he can remember catching bank robbers in the act.

He was in the Dade City Sheriff's Office when he heard the all-too-familiar call: bank robbery in Land O'Lakes.

This is the seventh bank robbery handled by the Sheriff's Office this year, a spokesman said, including one just last week at the Bank of America branch just a few hundred yards down SR 54 from Tuesday's robbery.

Schmelter headed for his vehicle to go to the crime scene.

But by the time he got to the car, he heard on the police radio that suspects already were in custody.

In the robbery, one man entered the bank, demanded money and threatened to harm the teller, Powers said. Two men waited in the car, and none of the three was armed, Powers said.

There were nine employees and a customer in the bank during the robbery, Powers said. No one was injured.

Deputies said they did not know if Tuesday's robbery was connected to any earlier ones.

However, one of the men arrested Tuesday had reddish blond hair and sideburns. He was wearing a brown and tan plaid button-down shirt.

The man who last week robbed the Bank of America also was described as having reddish blond hair and sideburns and wearing a checkered shirt.

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