Standoff at bank ends with one dead


Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2006 at 11:51 p.m.
KISSIMMEE - A 10-hour standoff with two armed bank robbers ended Tuesday with their hostages rescued, one of the suspects killed by a sniper and the other arrested, said Osceola County Sheriff Bob Hansell.
A sniper killed the male suspect, while the other robber, a woman, was in custody, Hansell said.
The standoff at the Mercantile Bank, a mile west of the Disney theme park, started at approximately 9:45 a.m. and ended at 7:45 p.m., Hansell said.
The robbers fled the bank with a hostage after sheriff's deputies threw some sort of explosive device to distract them into the back of the bank. and the robbers ran out the door. They used the female hostage as a shield to jump into a silver Lexus owned by a bank employee, said Hansell.
After a brief car chase, which ended because of barricaded streets, the robbers were trapped in the vehicle, whose tires were flattened by authorities.
"He used the hostage again as a shield to get into another vehicle," Hansell said of the male robber. "He tried to leave again and at that point he was taken down by one of our snipers."
Hansell said the hostages were treated well and had no complaints or threats of violence.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Twis Lizasuain said the alleged robbers appeared to be a man and woman wearing disguises, heavy coats, masks and wigs.
Traffic in the tourist area ground to a halt after deputies cordoned off the area.
As a result, several families in town for Disney visits were stuck in area hotels and nearby restaurants were all but deserted.
Lizasuain said none of the three hostages released earlier were hurt, and the suspects had said they did not intend to harm anyone. She said at least one of the robbers was armed, but did not specify a weapon.
The released hostages, two women and a man, were let go hours apart - the first woman after the robbers panicked when deputies arrived so quickly after the robbery, Lizasuain said.
The man was released about three hours later in exchange for cigarettes, and the second woman was released just before 3 p.m. after deputies agreed to back their vehicles a few feet away from the bank, Lizasuain said.
The last hostage was a female employee. Lizasuain said the suspects wanted deputies to open up roads for her release, but that request was denied.
Lizasuain said the released hostages were shaken, but recovering.
Julie Flores, the front desk clerk at a Quality Inn within sight of the bank, said several guests were getting restless after being stuck inside much of the day. She said families weren't confined to their rooms, but couldn't leave the hotel after police shut down the area.
Sam Hamade, manager at Giordano's Pizza across the street from the bank, said his store couldn't even make its scheduled 10 a.m. opening because roads were already closed off.
"People are calling for deliveries, and we cannot deliver," he said, adding that the shutdown cost an estimated $12,000-$13,000 in lost business.
Meanwhile, Valerie Balkeway, who lives near the bank, said the area was safe.
"I feel very safe walking around here," Balkeway. "If it hadn't been the suspect being killed, it would have been the hostage."
The standoff came just a day after an unidentified man led deputies on a two-mile chase near the same area. It started after he shot at and tried to run over a deputy during a traffic stop. But before the two-hour chase was over, the man had stolen three cars, rammed several others, shot a restaurant employee in the stomach and committed suicide.
Calls to the bank were routed to a Mercantile call center, where a woman said she had no additional information.
Mercantile Bank is a subsidiary of the South Carolina-based South Financial Group, which issued a statement saying:
"The police are in charge of this situation. We are cooperating fully and in every possible way. Our concerns are for our employees."
The South Financial Group representatives could not be reached at their office for comment after the standoff.
The same bank was robbed Nov. 16, and investigators are still looking for two suspects, Lizasuain said.

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