Hunter, resident help catch robber

Published 12:44 am Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Andalusia Police Department has one suspect in custody and is searching for two others involved in a Friday night armed robbery.

Assistant Police Chief Mike Bowlan said the APD received a call at 9:15 Friday night from Westgate Plaza about a robbery that occurred as a business closed. Two employees exited the building with the night deposit. One of the employees – who did not have the deposit – was approached by two suspects who demanded the woman give them the deposit and her car keys, he said.

Bowlan said the young woman was forced into her car at gunpoint with a weapon believed to be a .45 caliber semiautomatic. The suspects drove to the back of Westgate Plaza, he said, and debated what to do with the woman, including placing her in the trunk.

Instead, he said, they left her behind Westgate Plaza and took her car.

“At that time, they apparently decided to leave town,” Bowlan said. “There also was a secondary vehicle, a ’99 Ford Expedition, green in color.

“As the APD responded, we were able to get the tag number and description of the victim’s vehicle and put out a BOLO,” Bowlan said.

Bowlan said that Howard West, acting in his capacity as Red Level’s police chief, was at the intersection of the Gantt-Red Level Road and Hwy. 55 South and recognized the victim’s car. West pursued as law enforcement officers tried to get other units in the area.

“We knew the suspects were armed,” Bowlan said.

As West was following the white car, it passed the green Expedition, which tried to interfere with West’s pursuit by attempting to force him off the road, Bowlan said.

Bowlan said the suspects turned south, north, then south again in an attempt to elude West.

“According to the info we have, they did not wreck, but put distance between (West) and them and bailed out of the car at Lloyd Mill Road and Pigeon Creek Road,” Bowlan said.

The suspects then fled on foot, Bowlan said. The APD called its K-9 officer in, and requested assistance. The Covington County Sheriff’s Department also joined the pursuit.

“The canines tracked the suspect in a residential area,” he said. “Then we had a report of shots fired.”

Bowlan said a resident of the Pigeon Creek area, who had armed himself to protect his home and property, was standing in his driveway, and saw an individual he believed to be a suspect.

“He tried at that point to detain the person, and ordered him to stop,” Bowlan said. “(The suspect) did not stop. The individual fired shots in the direction of the suspect in an attempt to get him to adhere to his words. The citizen was using what we believe was bird shot.”

The suspect was shot with “some birdshot,” Bowlan said.

Officers then moved to the location where shots had been fired and the dogs began tracking the suspect again. The dogs were able to track the suspect a short distance, but lost the scent at Pigeon Creek, he said.

“The weather was against us,” Bowlan said. “The fog wouldn’t let a helicopter come in.”

Law enforcement officers were able to get tracking dogs and their handlers from the state prison in Atmore to assist.

Officers abandoned the pursuit at about 4 a.m., he said, after the dogs lost the scent.

“We believed that the suspects didn’t know where they were,” he said.

After daylight, he said, a local resident who was deer hunting located one of the suspects. City and county officers responded to the scene, took the suspect into custody, and learned the identity of the two other suspects involved.

“One was still in the wooded area the last time he was seen,” Bowlan said. “It looked like he made it to open ground and at daylight, was able to find his way out.”

Searches from the air continued on Saturday.

The suspect taken into custody, Jerome Edwards, 28, was charged with robbery first, theft of property first, and kidnapping second. He is being held on a $1.5 million bond.

The APD also was assisted by Alabama State Troopers and agents of the ABC.