Fatal Robbery Puts Bankers on Notice

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Feb. 19, 2007 12:00 am  

President and CEO of Metropolitan Nation Bank Lunsford Bridges was visiting a relative in Hot Springs on Dec. 23 when he got the call informing him that one of his employees had been shot during a robbery.

Lunsford Bridges was visiting a relative in Hot Springs on Dec. 23 when he got the call informing him that one of his employees had been shot during a robbery. 

The president and CEO of Metropolitan National Bank left Hot Springs and went straight to Baptist Hospital. By the time Bridges arrived, the 25-year-old teller, Jim Garison, had died. 

"There were six or seven bank personnel there at the hospital to try and help the family and ... try to figure out how to reach out and to respond," Bridges said. "There's no dress rehearsal for something like this."

The robbery of Metropolitan's Colony West branch in west Little Rock was one of 51 bank heists that the FBI worked in Arkansas in 2006, marking the highest number of holdups in at least five years. While the number of bank robberies reported to the FBI statewide in 2006 was up 30 percent compared with 2005, the number in Little Rock actually fell from 18 to 17.

Experts find it difficult to pinpoint a cause for the spike.

"It's a crime of opportunity," said Special Agent Steve Frazier in the FBI's Little Rock office. "Every bank robber has his own reason. Some do it for drugs, some do it for desperation, some do it just for the kicks of it, [and] some do it to obtain money."

Usually, the bank robber is desperate to feed an addiction, such as narcotics or gambling, said Bill Rehder, who tracked bank robberies for the FBI in Los Angles for more than 30 years and wrote "Where the Money Is: True Tales from the Bank Robbery Capital of the World."

Rehder said he thinks the increase in bank robberies in Arkansas may be caused by several new serial bandits who have robbed a number of banks.

"I've always likened it to eating potato chips. Nobody can eat just one," he said. "If they do the one robbery, it's almost inevitable that if they are successful that they will come back and rob again."

The Arkansas Bankers Association is trying to prevent further bank robberies by informing its members of anti-crime programs. One campaign calls for banks to put signs on their entrances that ask customers to remove hats, hoods and sunglasses while in the bank. (Security video of the robber who killed Garison - whom police and prosecutors have identified as Grover Evans Jr., 18, of Little Rock — showed that he had the hood of his blue jacket pulled up over his head and also had the lower half of his face covered.) 

"Some of the banks have chosen to do that," said Ken Hammonds, president and CEO of the ABA. 

Soon the ABA will offer posters of the signs so banks can stick them in their windows.
Another sign the ABA is pushing warns that the penalty for robbing an Arkansas bank is 25 years in prison. The ABA also is establishing a reward fund that would offer up to $25,000 to catch perpetrators.



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