Starke police arrest one robbery suspect, seek to ID another

Published: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 12:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 12:55 p.m.

Starke police arrested one man and were looking for another in connection with a Saturday night armed robbery at a restaurant on U.S. 301. Victims said they were not injured but heard one shot fired.

The robbery happened at about 9:15 p.m. at the Grannies restaurant at 367 N. Temple Ave., which is also known as U.S. 301, according Starke Police Capt. Barry Warren.

The incident began after the restaurant had closed for the night and while three employees were cleaning up. Warren said one employee had walked out the kitchen door into the alleyway to dispose of some grease. The employee told police that he was confronted by a man he knew and a second man he did not know who put a shotgun to his head and ordered him to go back into the restaurant and get money.

Warren provided the following account of what happened next.

"There was a second employee in the kitchen and a third employee in the office completing the day's receipts. The employee in the office heard a commotion in the kitchen and looked at the monitors. He observed the suspects confronting the kitchen workers, and before he could react he was confronted by a robber wielding a shotgun.

"The unknown suspect instructed the employee to get on the ground and not to call the police. The suspect then entered the office and took an undisclosed amount of currency."

The employees told police that the two men fled from the restaurant and that they heard what they believed was a gunshot shortly after the suspects left the building.

Warren said police developed a former employee, Jerry William Simmons, 24, Starke, as a suspect. Officers found Simmons at a nearby apartment complex about two hours later and found an undisclosed amount of money with him, Warren said. Simmons was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a firearm, three counts each of kidnapping and robbery, and one count each of aggravated battery, burglary and grand theft.

Early Sunday, police said they searched the ditches and shrubs along the roadway between the restaurant and the apartments and found a sawed-off, 20-gauge shotgun. Police also found a handgun in a duffel bag and a ski mask near where they arrested Simmons, Warren said.

In a prepared statements about the crimes, Chief Jeff Johnson said he was "grateful that nobody was shot or injured. To put a shotgun to the back of anyone's head is a dangerous life threatening act. My patrol officers had enough knowledge of Simmons that they were able to make a quick arrest, but there is still a dangerous felon out there, and we need the citizens to help us.”

Anyone with information about the second suspect or who may have information about the case is asked to call Starke Police Investigator James Hooper or Capt. Roman Alvarez at 904-964-5400.

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