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Police hunt bank robber

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A man claiming he had a bomb robbed the Aspen Business Center branch of Alpine Bank Tuesday just after 10:20 a.m. and got away on foot with an undisclosed amount of money.

Authorities had no suspects in custody last night and found no evidence of a bomb.

“There was a gentleman that came into the bank, said he had a bomb and asked for some money out of the cash drawer,” said Steve Briggs, regional president of Alpine Bank. “No one was hurt, everybody stayed really cool. They did a good job.”

Briggs said the robber demanded cash from only one teller’s drawer before running out of the bank. The robber did not show a bomb or a gun but had what looked like an electronic device in his hand and may have been carrying a small black gym bag.

The teller, who was not identified by authorities, did not appear traumatized to Briggs, who went to the bank when he heard about the crime.

“I was amazed how calm she was,” Briggs said. “I don’t know if it had hit her yet.”

Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe DiSalvo said the teller did the right thing.

“You’ve got to take those things seriously,” he said. “I think it would be foolhardy for someone to say ‘I don’t believe you’ and get a bunch of people hurt.”

The man was described as 5-foot-6, white, about 180 pounds, brown eyes, short dark hair and a large bald spot. He was said to be wearing a tan canvas coat, black pants and white tennis shoes.

Inside the bank, he wore an aqua or teal-blue piece of fabric over his head and face, although his eyes and the back of his head were visible.

Pitkin County deputies, Aspen police officers and FBI Special Agent Craig Byrkit from Glenwood Springs, who happened to be in Aspen, responded in minutes to the ABC and began searching for the robber.

As employees at the ABC went about their normal morning routines, officers were walking the roadways and looking for the robber’s trail while carrying automatic rifles and handguns. The sight of officers with large weapons in hand was startling.

“The choice of which weapon to use is solely up to the officer,” DiSalvo said. “It really did not have a lot to do with the way the suspect might have been armed, it is just the officer’s choice.”

Other officers, including two from the Snowmass Village Police Department, began looking at drivers heading out of the business center, although they did not search the trunks of cars or the enclosed backs of trucks.

A black bag was found in front of the former Napa auto parts store next to the Fetzer and Co. store, just up the frontage road from the bank.

“I looked out my window and saw all these cops at the east end gather and then split up,” said Scott Fetzer, owner of Fetzer and Co., an interior design and antiques firm. “I came out and asked them what was going on and they told me. They were looking around, and I spotted that bag on the corner and called them over and then they taped off the area.”

The bag was later searched by law enforcement officials.

“We had a bomb technician up here, and he looked at the bag and there was no evidence of any bomb here,” said DiSalvo, who is the head of investigations for the sheriff’s office.

Shortly after 11 a.m. a handwritten sign was placed on the glass door of Alpine Bank that said, “Due to an emergency, we are temporarily closed.”

At about 11:30 a.m., both entrances to the ABC were closed and remained so until about 12:30 p.m.

At 11:45 a.m., an officer and a police dog from the Glenwood Springs Police Department arrived to try to pick up the robber’s trail.

The suspect fled out of the bank and ran toward Highway 82. He then apparently turned left and ran across a fresh mound of snow in front of the 117 building at the ABC, which is the Aspen Skiing Co.’s former headquarters building next to the Sport Obermeyer building.

Vanto, a young German shepherd, led his handler, Officer Robertson, across the track of footprints that may have been left by the robber.

The tip of his black nose coated in white snow, Vanto headed across the front of the Obermeyer building, where he was greeted by an employee’s golden retriever. He then sniffed around the black bag in front of the next building on the frontage road, but then seemed to lose the scent.

Officers continued to search around the perimeter of the ABC but found no suspect.

“There have been no arrests,” said DiSalvo. “But a lot of these things are solved by witnesses who come forward after hearing a description and say, ‘That sounds familiar.’ I think that the case will be solved.”

The FBI plans to continue working with local cops on the case. “If anyone has any information, we would appreciate hearing it,” said Ann Atanasio, a special agent in the FBI’s Denver bureau.

FBI officials said they do not have any information linking the crime to a pattern of robberies. And DiSalvo does not believe the suspect is armed or dangerous.

“I don’t know that he is armed, and I don’t know that he is dangerous,” he said. “I would hate to put that in anybody’s head.”

Neither DiSalvo nor Briggs could remember a bank robbery taking place in Aspen in the last 20 years. However, in 1999, there were a string of armed robberies in the Aspen area, including at Stage 3 Theatres, Clark’s Market, the Aspen Alps and Village Market in Snowmass Village. The robberies were done by local youths who were convicted.

Earlier this month, the manager of Movieland in El Jebel and another employee were depositing funds at a Vectra Bank ATM machine in the Orchard Plaza shopping center when two people emerged from the dark and robbed them at gunpoint.

On Nov. 16, 1999, Joseph Allen Starkweather robbed the Alpine Bank in West Glenwood Springs and escaped on a bicycle with $4,119 in cash. He was arrested in February 2000 after talking about the robbery with his girlfriend and then confessing. He was sentenced to 36 years in state prison and received a six-year federal sentence on top of that.

In November 1977, a man used a pistol to hold up the Roaring Fork Bank in Carbondale, which is now an Alpine Bank. An 18-year-old Basalt resident, Jeffrey Owen Jones, was arrested two weeks later in Cheyenne, Wyo.

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]


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