Bank robbery-shootout shocks North Sideby David L. Teibel on Dec. 19, 1997, under News
2 held, others sought
Gun battle erupts in escape effort
DAVID L. TEIBEL and LEAH TRINIDAD Citizen Staff Writers
Police searched today for at least one more suspect in a bank robbery yesterday that turned into a running gun battle between officers and the suspected robbers.
Two men suspected of robbing the Wells Fargo Bank at 3655 E. Grant Road were arrested following a chase through midtown and near North Side areas, police said.
Both were treated for minor wounds, but it is unknown if the suspects were shot by police.
”Because of the firearms involved, it was amazing that no one was (seriously) hurt, including the suspects,” said William E. McGrady, who watched a police SWAT team close in on one of the suspects near McGrady’s apartment in the 200 block of East Delano Street.
Police cordoned the neighborhood for nearly two hours while groups of about 40 people watched from each end of the block.
As a police helicopter circled, SWAT officers armed with assault carbines and wearing camouflage battle fatigues, black face masks and military helmets began a door-to-door, yard-to-yard search.
James Mathew Tigue, 31, and Wayne Alan Byerly, 36, both believed to be Mesa residents, were arrested and charged with four counts of armed robbery, five counts of aggravated assault and two counts of kidnapping.
They are being held in the Pima County Jail without bond pending their initial appearances in justice court today at 2 p.m.
Police spokesman Sgt. Eugene Mejia said last night it was unclear how many people had been involved in the robbery.
Reports from witnesses indicated at least one other person was in the getaway car.
The drama unfolded when police received a 911 call at 12:14 p.m. saying that armed men wearing masks had entered the bank branch at Grant and North Dodge Boulevard while another suspect waited in a car.
After the robbers entered the bank, they pulled their guns and demanded cash from all the tellers.
Mejia said a total of 15 bank employees and customers were in the branch during the robbery.
No one was injured and no shots were fired in the bank, he said.
Mejia termed the holdup a ”take-down robbery,” a term used to describe robberies that involve violence or hold-ups in which the robbers order people to the floor.
He said the gunmen escaped with an undisclosed amount of cash.
The shooting started when patrol Officer James Scott spotted men in a late-model silver Buick Park Avenue that matched the description of the robbers’ getaway car, which Mejia said may have been rented.
Scott followed the car as it headed away from the robbery scene westbound on Grant. At least one man in the car began shooting through the back window at Scott with a semi-automatic pistol, Mejia said.
He said Scott lost sight of the car during the pursuit, but another officer, Ardan Devine, spotted it later parked behind at vacant building at East Allen Road and North Campbell Avenue, near Tucson General Hospital.
Devine got his 12-gauge shotgun and was walking toward the car when it started to pull away, Mejia said.
Police said Devine spotted someone in the car aiming a pistol at him and he opened fire with the shotgun.
Mejia said it has not yet been determined if the suspect fired at Devine.
The trunk of the car had at least three gunshot holes.
As the car approached East Fort Lowell Road and North Stone Avenue, one man got out and ran into a neighborhood southeast of the intersection, chased by police.
The driver headed west on Fort Lowell and then turned south on Stone and abandoned the car near that intersection, Mejia said.
Cash and a large amount of blood were found in the car, police said.
Officers spotted the driver walking nearby and captured him.
A second man eluded police for about two hours as officers searched a one-block area bounded by North Fontana Avenue on the east, North Estrella Avenue on the west, Fort Lowell on the north and East Delano Street on the south.
A SWAT officer found a man hiding in a storage shed at an apartment complex in the 200 block of East Delano and arrested him without further incident.
Two other men found in the area were detained and questioned by police, who later determined the men had nothing to do with the robbery and released them, Mejia said.
Mejia said one of the suspects arrested was wounded in the shoulder and the other in the leg. He did not know which suspect received which injury.
He added that until police got a report from doctors who were treating the men, he could not say whether the wounds were caused by gunshots or flying glass.
Mejia said a police board of inquiry will look into Devine’s use of his shotgun. Such an inquiry is standard practice whenever an officer fires a weapon.
Yesterday’s robbery was the 60th bank robbery in Tucson this year. There were 52 in 1996.
It was believed to be the second time this year a fleeing suspect fired shots at police.
On Feb. 5, a gunman shot at police vehicles after robbing the Empress Adult Video & Bookstore, 3832 E. Speedway Blvd.
PARTIAL POLICE DISPATCHER TRANSCRIPT
The following is part of a police dispatcher’s communications with several officers yesterday as they chased and arrested a bank robbery suspect near West Fort Lowell and North Stone Avenue.
Another suspect was caught later after police sealed off the North Side neighborhood.
Many officers were involved. Their call letters are omitted from the dialogue.
Officer: Get SWAT over here (200 block of East Delano Street) so they can start doing the perimeter and start checking the buildings. It’s a big complex and they could have went into any one of these buildings.
(In the next several minutes, SWAT team members are setting up a meeting point and officers are setting up a command post and checkpoints.)
Officer: We just had a passer-by say that when officers responded to the area of Delano, we had a white male, green pants, torn left (pant) leg proceed north over (not audible). Could someone check on that?
Officer: Reports now that they did jump the fence north of here in this big construction company, this big brick lot and if we can get an officer over there at least to the opening, there’s some subjects standing out there, uh, they’re probably workers, and see if they saw anything.
Officer: Yeah, witnesses say that’s the place that he saw the guy come out, it was the brick lot.
(In the next minute, officers are being told where to set up stationary checkpoints.)
Officer: I got the key and the jacket off one of the suspects.
Officer: For your information, the property left behind here has blood all over it, so one of the subjects is seriously injured.
Dispatcher: 10-4 (affirmative). I copy, and just to confirm, we have not recovered a weapon, 10-4?
Officer: There is not one in the car, I don’t know what the deal is, but it looks like we have bullet holes on the outside of this (car) also.
Officer: That was me.
Dispatcher: I copy that was you in reference the outside of the vehicle.
(Some officers are now searching the vehicle for evidence.)
Officer: There’s a lot of loose cash in here.
(Officers are again talking with one another setting up checkpoints.)
Officer: Do you want bloodhounds from the state prison?
Officer: No, we have dogs en route. (Officer confirms.)
Officer: I need you to get together with some detectives, and we need to start interviewing that person (the suspect) right now to find out who these other people are and where they might be headed. Also, I need to find out how they are armed.
(Next several minutes officers are again assisting one another and setting up check points.)
Officer: I have a description of the suspect who left the jacket behind here.
Dispatcher: OK, go ahead.
Officer: No. 5 male (white), 34 years of age, 5 foot 7, he’s wearing green pants and a Hawaiian print colored shirt, lots and lots of colors on it. And he left his jacket and the key to the car back at the scene. And he’s also a red-headed subject.
(Dispatcher repeats the description.)
Officer: I might have possible on a subject in front of Monument Camera at Stone and Fort Lowell.
Officer: This is our suspect.
Dispatcher: I copy, it is our suspect?
Officer: (officer call letter not audible) will be able to identify him.
Officer: He is 10-15 (in custody). This is our subject. He is wounded in the left leg. They’re taking him into custody and we need meds (paramedics).
Officer: I want everybody to stay right where they are. I don’t want to assume that we have everybody in custody at this time.
1. At 12:14 p.m., the Wells Fargo Bank at East Grant Road and North Dodge Boulevard is robbed.
2. Police follow suspected getaway car westbound on Grant Road, where at least one man shoots through back window at police.
3. Police fire at suspects’ car after it is spotted near Tucson General Hospital at North Campbell Avenue and East Allen Road.
4. Suspects’ car abandoned near West Fort Lowell Road and North Stone Avenue, and the driver is captured by police.
5. Police seal off nearby neighborhood and capture another suspect about two hours later.
PHOTO CAPTIONS: Photos by XAVIER GALLEGOS/Tucson Citizen
Tucson police SWAT officers with dogs search the 200 block of East Delano Street for suspects in yesterday’s bank robbery.
Police Sgt. Kurt Kreutz searches for evidence next to a suspected getaway car with bullet holes in the trunk.
Police take one of the suspects in yesterday’s robbery of a Wells Fargo Bank branch into custody.