Towson bank blasted in break-in Police close streets downtown to search for incendiary device

February 09, 1997|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

In a brazen burglary in Towson yesterday morning, one or more intruders broke through street-level windows, then tried to blast their way into a Signet Bank vault across the street from the old Baltimore County courthouse -- a block from the Towson police precinct.

The vault was not breached, but when investigators arrived at the six-story Royston Building at 102 Pennsylvania Ave., they found the first-floor branch bank ransacked, with glass shards on the floor and the smell of gas in the air.

They soon closed surrounding streets to check for explosives.

Such a crime is "very out of the ordinary," said Baltimore County police Cpl. James Conaboy. "We don't get many burglaries with explosives."

A fire alarm alerted police and firefighters to trouble at the office building at 6: 44 a.m. The Signet Bank is to the left of the building's lobby. The windows and front door of the Towson Computer store across the lobby from the bank were blown out.

The money in the vault was not disturbed, and authorities said they were trying to determine if anything else was taken.

No witnesses saw or heard the break-in or the explosion, police said.

Signet Bank officials would not comment.

Police would not disclose whether they knew of any suspects late yesterday. They also would not provide information about the explosives.

Not long after the explosion, police bomb squads and five police dogs launched an extensive search of the area for an incendiary device, closing Pennsylvania Avenue to traffic between Bosley Avenue and York Road for 3 1/2 hours. They also sealed Washington Avenue between Chesapeake and Allegheny avenues for most of the morning.

Normal traffic resumed shortly after noon when the buildings and grounds were declared safe. Until then, up to three dozen police and fire units responded to the crime scene.

The Royston Building, largely occupied by law, insurance and accounting firms, is managed by Nottingham Management. The company said that only the bank and the computer store were damaged. In addition to broken glass, the two businesses were sprayed by water from the building's sprinkler system. Neither business is usually open on Saturday.

Damage estimates were not available.

Bill Toohey, spokesman for Baltimore County Police, said the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms were informed of the explosion.

Toohey said there was "no reason to connect" the explosion with two other bomb incidents last week in Maryland, one in an Eastern Shore home and another at Bowie High School in Prince George's County. "We don't think it's connected to anything other than Signet Bank," said Sgt. Kevin Novak, a Baltimore County police spokesman.

Pennsylvania Avenue merchants, usually busy on Saturday mornings, lamented the lack of customers while vehicles were excluded from roads near the bank.

"I was ready to go at 9 and was, like, OK, people, come on in," said Dennis Smith, owner of the Perking Lot coffee shop. "But it was really dead." Police would allow pedestrians, however, and a few found their way in.

But workers at Borders Books, a bagel bakery and the Landmark parking lot said business was slower than usual. At least part of the drop off may have been due to the snow.

The manager of Tomlinson's Craft Collections, Barbara Douglas, said, "The police told me to go home this morning, so I didn't open until 1. And Saturday is the best day of the week."

Police ask that anyone with information contact them at 887-2198. Pub Date: 2/09/97

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