Investigators are convinced that someone out there knows who robbed the Citizens Bank inside the Giant Eagle store in South Strabane Township Sunday afternoon and then shot and killed the Washington man who tried to stop him.
Citizens Bank and Giant Eagle have agreed to fund a reward pool of as much as $50,000, payable to anyone providing information leading to the identification, arrest and successful prosecution of the person responsible for the crimes.
“We’ve received a tremendous amount of information, but we are asking for more information,” said South Strabane police Detective Ken Torboli. “Whether you think the information is useful or not, anyone seeing anything unusual between the time of 2:20 and 3 p.m. in the parking lot near Citizens Bank, Giant Eagle, PetSmart or any business in that plaza, please come forward.”
The robber entered the store and went to the bank about 2:20 p.m. Brandishing a handgun, he jumped over the teller counter and robbed the bank.
After hearing a scream, Vince “Vinny” Kelley and his friend, Jared Cameron, saw the robber jump back over the counter, and the two started to give chase with others. Cameron said the robber turned and pointed a gun at them. Kelley continued to go after the robber and got into the back seat of the getaway car, a small to mid-size, white, four-door sedan. As Kelley reached for a knife he carried, he was shot several times by the robber. The robber drove off, and Kelley fell out of the vehicle. The 46-year-old Washington man was pronounced dead a short time later.
“He was driving erratically when he fled, cutting off drivers going at a high rate of speed,” Torboli said of the robber. “Maybe he caught the eye of someone.”
Torboli said investigators know the vehicle went south on Route 19 in the direction of Interstate 70.
“If you saw the same type vehicle on I-70, Interstate 79 or Route 19, let us know,” the detective added at a Friday news conference. “Or if anyone witnessed someone tossing an item out of a white, four-door vehicle. He may have been trying to dispose of items. The information could be useful to us.”
“If you took any cellphone photos or videos at the scene, please provide us with the data so we can review it,” Torboli stated.
“Witnesses reported seeing a dye pack activate inside the car, and the interior filled with red smoke,” said Patrick McGlennon, a supervisory special agent with the FBI’s Charleroi office. “When the dye is activated, it does create a lot of smoke that would still not have dissipated as he fled.”
The dye pack also causes irritation, particularly in the eyes, that would have caused extreme discomfort to the driver and any passenger. The robber’s hands or extremities also may have been burned.
“The currency would have been damaged to the point of being unusable. It would have either been saturated with the dye or charred,” the agent added.
McGlennon said it also would be very difficult to clean the interior of the car.
“It would not be an easy fix,” the agent said.
Torboli said the department has gotten a tremendous number of calls about red marks on currency. But those marks have likely occurred through the normal course of business.
“The bills stolen in the robbery would not have red just on the edges or periphery,” McGlennon said. “The majority of the currency would be destroyed or saturated.”
The robber is described as being in his 20s or 30s, 5-feet, 9-inches to 6 feet tall, with a thin to medium build. His race is undetermined. He wore black clothing, including a full-face black ski mask and a large floppy, straw hat with a blue brim. He put the money in a small, dark nylon bag with a shoulder strap. He also carried an umbrella that he used to shield his identity.
Torboli said there may have been confusion among some witnesses because Kelley wore a black top hat.
“He was familiar with the area,” McGlennon said of the robber. “He had been in the store before, whether minutes, hours or days before. He parked in an area closest to the exit so he could egress quickly.”
Torboli said the robber parked away from general traffic near the embankment that separates the lot from Berry Road.
McGlennon said people who know the robber might notice changes in his mood, and he said the suspect is likely a substance abuser.
“He committed a brazen, high-risk act,” McGlennon said. “Now he has been thwarted. He may hit again or be driven underground.
“Given that he has used deadly force, all bets are off,” the FBI agent added. “I’d like to get him off the street.”
In his 16 years with the FBI, McGlennon said he cannot recall another bank robbery in which a person has been killed. In February 2007, Brad Horner of Washington was shot in the leg while trying to stop a man who had just robbed the Washington Federal Savings Bank on East Wylie Avenue in Washington’s Tylerdale section.
Township police Chief Donald Zofchak said it has been a tragic week for the community, but Torboli and Detective Michael Schidlmeier, along with state police and the FBI, continue to work diligently.
“They are doing yeoman’s work and making progress,” Zofchak said. “But we need more progress, and we need the cooperation of the media and public. I am confident this case can come to a prosecution.”
Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone echoed Zofchak’s plea to the public.
“Many people witnessed this,” Vittone said. “If you have not spoken to the police, please contact them.”
Anyone with information can call a hotline set up for the case at 724-350-2965.