For the third time in seven years, a bank in Bunnell — the same bank — was robbed at midday on Dec. 31, this time by a man who claimed he was armed with a bomb.
At 11:39 a.m. on Dec. 31, a man of medium height, medium build wearing shades and a cap pulled down over his forehead walked up to a female teller at Bunnell’s Bank of America on East Moody Boulevard, deposited a package on the counter and said, calmly and “pretty in control,” according to Bunnell Police Chief Arthur Jones: “‘Give me your money,’ and ‘this is a bomb.'” Moments later, the man, believed to be in his 30s or 40s and black, walked out with an undetermined sum of cash and vanished, leaving the alleged bomb behind.
The bank was evacuated and the Bunnell Police Department called in, along with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, the Palm Coast Fire Department, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the bomb squad from the St. Johns Sheriff’s Office. Police closed the five blocks of E. Moody Blvd. from U.S. Route 1 to S. Anderson Street until 3:25 p.m. (See a complete image gallery here.)
For three hours the six-man bomb squad, with a guided robot called “Frosty” and men in green armored suits that made them look like camouflaged sumo wrestlers, X-rayed and analyzed the device until 3 p.m., when they intentionally exploded it inside the bank after placing it in a bomb-blasting canister.
Jones said at 2:45 p.m. that the squad had determined “unofficially” that it was not a bomb. But the squad was “not positive if it was an explosive device.” In those circumstances, the device is usually exploded. An FDLE analysis will determine the nature of the device over the next few days.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s not going to be real,” said Sgt. Kerry Tanner, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office’s bomb squad commander, who supervised the operation at the scene. A 23-year veteran of the bomb squad, Tanner said his unit–on call 365 days a year for all bomb scares in Flagler, Putnam and St. Johns–responds to about 100 calls a year. For all those calls, a bomb was actually found just seven times in Tanner’s 23 years on the job. Three times since 2002, when the squad acquired “Frosty,” a bomb exploded in the robot’s face (such as it is), without damaging it.
No one was hurt during the alleged robbery or when the device was exploded. While the bomb squad was negotiating the device’s nature, two units of three men each combining Bunnell police officers and Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies combed the area around Bunnell for clues on the suspected robber’s whereabouts. The Sheriff’s Office’s helicopter, however, never flew because of what Jones termed a “time delay.” The suspect was caught on surveillance video.
The robot, a Remotec Andros F6A, sports a color surveillance camera with powerful zooming capabilities on a 24-inch camera extender, grips with versatile rotations and heavy-duty tracks allowing it to cross ditches and obstacles in rough terrain. Little of it was necessary inside the bank building, where the robot did most of the work. The sumo-suited bomb squad members did not themselves handle the device. (The robot’s nickname takes after that of Tanner’s father, Lt. Wayne Tanner, who created the bomb squad in 1973 and died in retirement in 2001.)
Bank of America Manager John Mills and about eight of the banks employees milled about on the old county courthouse lawn for the duration of the bomb squad’s analysis, but would not comment on the incident. The teller who faced the alleged robber was among the group. It wasn’t clear to police how much money the alleged robber had taken, if any. The same Bank of America branch was robbed two years ago and seven years ago, Jones said.
At 3:05 p.m., Jones allowed bank employees to claim their cars from the bank parking lot behind Moody Blvd. At 3:25 p.m., deputies took down all crime-scene barriers and reopened the boulevard to traffic. Only North Pine Street between East Lambert and E. Moody remained closed as FDLE continued its investigation. The most pungent smell of the afternoon wasn’t cordite, but that of fried oil from the Bantam Chef, a restaurant on East Court Ave. that specializes in seafood. The northeasterly breeze ensured that the crime scene outside the banks doors at no point escaped the restaurant’s oily aromas.
A complete image gallery of the robbery and bomb scare: