News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 6, 2013

Police still to identify suspected bank robber

Authorities review surveillance footage, follow new leads

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Police continue their search for a suspect in Saturday’s armed robbery of the Old National Bank branch on Terre Haute’s south side.

“We’re following up on leads and trying to identify a suspect,” said Clark Cottom, chief deputy with the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department. Investigators also have been reviewing surveillance video from the bank and nearby businesses.

The FBI also is involved with the investigation.

The bank robbery occurred shortly after 11:30 a.m. when a suspect entered the bank at 4675  U.S. 41 South, displayed what is described as a small silver handgun and demanded money. The bank had several customers, including a young child.

Bank employees cooperated with the suspect’s demands, and he then left the bank through a rear door and fled west with an undisclosed amount of money, authorities said.

The suspect is described as a white male between the ages of 40 and 50, a height of 5-feet, 6-inches to 5-feet, 8-inches tall, weighing between 140 to 160 pounds. He was wearing blue jeans, gray T-shirt, tan ball cap and dark sunglasses, according to authorities. At the time of the robbery, he was wearing what appears to be a surgical type mask.

A dye bag was hidden within the stolen money, Cottom said. The dye bag explodes after it reaches a certain distance from the bank, and the money would have become saturated with the red dye. The suspect also   may have been covered with red dye.

Anyone who might have seen anything suspicious in that area around the time of the robbery is urged to contact the sheriff’s department at 812-462-4226 or call Crimestoppers at 812-238-STOP or 1-800-222-8477.

The suspect may have left in a vehicle, but there is no vehicle description.

It was the area’s second bank robbery in less than three weeks. On July 15, a robbery took place at the First Financial Bank branch in Farmersburg; police arrested two suspects in that case the next day.

Saturday’s robbery occurred in a busy part of town when customers, including a child, were at the bank. The customers may not initially have been aware of the robbery, “but before it was over, they certainly were aware,” Cottom said.

He offered some advice to members of the public who might find themselves at a bank when a robbery occurs. “We encourage people to be calm and cooperative [with the robber’s demands]. Material items and money can be replaced,” Cottom said. “No property or any amount of money is worth losing one’s life.”

Customers should not do anything to provoke the alleged robber, he said.

For bank customers and employees, “It’s a very traumatic event,” Cottom said. After a robbery, it’s not uncommon for banks to increase security and hire off-duty police for a period of time, so that everyone feels safer.

Steve Herndon, chief risk officer for First Financial Bank, said bank robberies “are something we take very seriously and train for regularly.”

He also offered some common sense tips for the public in the event customers find themselves at a bank when a robbery occurs.

First, he said, remain calm. “Understand that you don’t want to take any action that might be perceived as a threat or defiance of a robber’s authority,” he said. “Follow instructions. Don’t put yourself and others in danger. Don’t play hero.”

If customers have children with them, “Try to reassure them and keep them calm and understand the robbery will be over in matter of minutes,” he said. “It’s a trying event, and the first and most important thing is to remain calm and do what you are told.”

As far as bank employees, they receive regular training on how to respond to a robbery, Herndon said.

While he did not want to discuss specifics for security reasons, “We stress remaining calm, and don’t put yourselves or customers in danger,” Herndon said.

In many bank robberies, the suspect passes a note to a teller and wants it to appear as a normal transaction. “They don’t want a lot of witnesses,” he said. Many times, customers and other tellers may not even know a robbery is occurring. “That’s how the robber wants it to go off,” Herndon said.

Again, even if a customer notices something unusual occurring, his advice remains the same. “Remain calm, and don’t try to be a hero.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.