Suspected robber hiding at Nationwide Insurance leads to evacuation


Published: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 2:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 2:48 p.m.

Gainesville Police began evacuating more than 1,000 employees from Nationwide Insurance on SW 34th Street today after a suspected robber ran inside the building to hide after stealing a woman's purse in the Publix parking lot across the street.

The evacuation was in its initial stages when police found Billy Wilson Simons, 36, who has been in Gainesville since September, at 1:50 p.m. hiding in a men's bathroom stall in an area only accessible by employees, said Gainesville Police Lt. Scott Meffen.

Simons is accused of robbing a woman in the Publix parking lot at 5200 SW 34th St. after implying he had a gun and would harm her if she didn't hand over her purse, Meffen said.

Simons reportedly gained access to the building through a kitchen area after telling an employee he was a new employee and didn't know his way around, Meffen said.

Sgt. Greg Armagost was in the immediate area when the call came out at 1:29 p.m. about the robbery, Meffen said. Armagost spoke with a Publix manager who told him that the robber had run east across SW 34th Street toward Nationwide at 3300 SW Williston Road.

No one was injured and police are continuing to investigate the incident. Meffen praised the efforts of Nationwide staff for an "orderly and prompt" evacuation. About 1,250 to 1,350 employees work in the building, Meffen said.

For more on this story, read Friday's edition of The Sun.

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