Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Device tracks bank-robbery suspects


1 of 3 held in PNC heist wanted in 100 robberies

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP - A satellite tracking device dropped into a bag of money during a Monday bank robbery led police within seconds to their suspects, one of whom was on the U.S. Marshal's Service Most Wanted list.

Still, it took a car chase, a crash and an exchange of gunfire before the suspects were arrested.

The first local use of a global positioning system (GPS) locator resulted in the arrest of three suspects, including Trevor Woods, 36, wanted in Oklahoma and California since 2001 on robbery and federal probation violation charges. He's suspected in about 100 robberies during the past two years, according to the Marshal's Service.

When a PNC Bank branch at 8425 Vine St. was hit just before 10:30 a.m., it wasn't "a nice, hand-you-a-note-and-take-some-money kind of robbery," Springfield Township Chief Dave Heimpold said. "They put guns to customers' heads. There was jumping over counters."

Because of the GPS locator, officers knew almost immediately where the suspects' car was traveling. The device, about the size of a pack of cigarettes, sends a signal to a satellite, which transfers the information to a computer that local dispatchers can access with a password.

Local dispatch centers have had the technology more than a year. This was the first time a robber went to the window of a teller with a locator in the drawer, said Lt. Steve Kramer, commander of Cincinnati's Major Offenders Unit. Police declined to say how many banks have the devices.

Heimpold said he was notified by cell phone within seconds of the device going into the bag. Dispatchers continued to tell officers where the suspects' Acura was traveling. Officers caught up to it within minutes, and all three suspects were under arrest before 11 a.m.

"Technology's amazing," the chief said.

The chase ended on Lester Road in Pleasant Ridge when the car hit a tree and the suspects bailed out. That's when one of them turned and fired at Officer Ken Klayer, the department's DARE officer who happened to be the first car in the pursuit, Heimpold said. Klayer returned fire. No one was hurt.

Woods was the only suspect immediately identified. Heimpold said the other two were not cooperating. Later Monday, Springfield Township Police identified the other suspects as James Andre Black, 33, whose last known address was Hawthorne, Calif., and Leonard O. Drister, 31, also thought to be from the Los Angeles area.

Heimpold said Woods was identified more quickly, because Los Angeles authorities were in Cincinnati doing surveillance on him. Woods, who uses four aliases, was described in the Most Wanted brochure as armed and dangerous with a lazy left eye and "Mona" tattooed on his left arm.

All three were charged with aggravated robbery and two counts of felonious assault, police said. Additional charges are pending.

Police departments elsewhere have used GPS locators in other kinds of cases. In Seattle, investigators attached one to a homicide suspect's vehicle in 2000 and followed him to the shallow grave he'd dug for his 9-year-old daughter.

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E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com




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