Fugitive seized in Fla. bank robberies

August 26, 1994|By Mark Guidera and Kate Shatzkin | Mark Guidera and Kate Shatzkin,Sun Staff Writers

A man who broke out of the Patuxent Institution in Jessup last week was arrested in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Wednesday after robbing two banks by threatening to blow them up with a device that looked like a bomb.

Kevin Siler, 31, who escaped Aug. 17 from the maximum security prison, was arrested by West Palm Beach police after they pulled over a stolen car in a residential area, said Sgt. John English, a West Palm Beach police spokesman.

Siler's cousin, Lamont Randall, 35, of Riviera Beach, a community just north of West Palm Beach, was driving the brown 1982 Cadillac, authorities said. Mr. Randall was charged with auto theft but has not been charged in connection with the bank robberies, Sergeant English said.

"When the officers approached Mr. Randall in the car, he offered up his cousin," said Sergeant English.

Siler, who had been serving 29 years for armed robbery and a 1989 escape from the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, is being held in the Palm Beach County jail.

A hearing to extradite Siler to Maryland to face charges for the prison escape is scheduled for today, said Lt. Gregory M. Shipley, spokesman for the Maryland State Police. An FBI spokesman in Florida said bank robbery charges are pending against Siler.

"It's good to hear they've got him behind bars again. I just hope they find a more secure place to put him when they bring him back to Maryland," said Melanie Gutjahr, a Jessup resident and member of a citizens group that monitors the Patuxent $l Institution.

According to West Palm Beach police and the FBI, the first bank robbery in which Siler is suspected occurred around noon Monday when a man approached a teller in a branch of Barnett Bank, claiming to have a bomb.

The man fled after a clerk handed over an undisclosed amount of cash. The robbery was captured on film by a bank video camera, police said.

Around noon Tuesday, a man approached a teller in a branch of Sun Bank, displayed a bomb-like device and demanded money. The teller complied and the suspect fled. Again, the robbery was filmed by bank security cameras, police said.

The robber displayed what "looked like a couple of sticks of dynamite with an igniting device," said Sergeant English.

Reid Robertson, an FBI agent in Florida, said investigators have not located the device, but they believe it was fake.

West Palm Beach area newspapers had run photographs of the robbery suspect, which the FBI provided from stills taken from the bank film, said Sergeant English.

But a break in the case came when an employee at Barnett Bank told investigators that she had spotted a car driving past the bank erratically about the time of Monday's holdup. She jotted down the tag number, planning to call police to complain about the driver.

"When we checked out the tag number we found out the car had been reported stolen," said Sergeant English. The next day, a West Palm Beach Police patrol unit spotted two men in a car matching the description of the stolen Cadillac and pulled it over.

West Palm Beach police said that Mr. Randall told them that Siler planned to return to Maryland by train to buy new identification cards. Sergeant English said Mr. Randall told police that Siler then planned to return to South Florida and to flee to Jamaica.

The capture came as a relief to Patuxent Director Joseph Henneberry, who said Siler's escape had been the first from behind the institution's fence in 14 years.

Mr. Henneberry said he did not know how Siler might have gotten to Florida. He said that to his knowledge, Siler is not suspected of committing any crimes in Maryland since his escape.

Leonard A. Sipes Jr., spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Siler pulled a skullcap over a personal fan he had purchased in the prison commissary, then arranged blankets around the fan to make it look as if he were in bed.

A correctional officer gave a cup of ice to Siler about 11:15 p.m. Aug. 16, and the inmate was discovered missing during a noontime head count the next day. Mr. Sipes would not specify yesterday what time officials believed Siler escaped from the prison.

Officials have said that Siler used a hacksaw to cut through two bars on his cell window, then used pliers to cut a hole through a razor wire security fence and climbed over another security fence. Two correctional officers who worked on Siler's tier have been suspended without pay for 15 days while prison authorities investigate the escape.

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