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After seven-hour standoff, house found empty

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team members take positions Tuesday afternoon outside of a Largo home where two armed robbery suspects were thought to be cornered.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team members take positions Tuesday afternoon outside of a Largo home where two armed robbery suspects were thought to be cornered.

LARGO — Pinellas deputies believed they had two armed robbery suspects cornered in a home Tuesday.

They summoned the SWAT team and stood guard outside.

After a standoff lasting longer than seven hours, SWAT finally went into the home Tuesday night.

The house was empty.

It was unclear Tuesday how the suspects slipped away from deputies.

The long day began Tuesday morning as deputies searched for a trio of robbers suspected in a number of hold-ups. Their search led them to the home at 1328 Crosby St.

One man, Alfred Morris Jr., 23, of Largo, surrendered and was arrested on a charge of driving with a suspended license. Deputies said they suspect Morris drove the getaway car during the robberies.

Deputies thought two other suspects were inside, one of whom they later identified as Brandon Bennett, 18, of Largo. The other suspect had not been identified by late Tuesday. Both men remained at large Tuesday night.

One of the hold-ups earlier in the day occurred at Detail Depot in the unincorporated Largo-Clearwater area.

One minute Steve Smith was buffing a Mercury Sable at the business. The next, he had a gun pointed at his chest by a man demanding money.

"His finger was on the trigger and he was shaking," Smith said. "I thought I was done."

Smith, 43, and his sons, Joshua Baldock, 18, and Christopher Baldock, 21, all were at the business when the hold-up occurred.

As Smith was being approached by a man with a gun, Joshua Baldock said he was pulled from a car he was working on by another suspect. Later, Christopher Baldock had a gun pointed at him, too.

"It was crazy," Joshua Baldock said. "I honestly didn't know what was going on."

The suspects searched Smith and his sons, then went through the business looking for money. They got only "a wallet and $2" before leaving in a hurry, Smith said.

Witnesses saw two of the suspects jump into a truck driven by the third, officials said.

"Right now, I'm just in disbelief still," said Smith, who is a co-owner of the business.

Sheriff's officials said the men also are suspects in two other robberies in Largo Tuesday morning.

Anyone with information about the suspects is asked to contact detectives at (727)582-6200 or 1-800-873-TIPS(8477).

After seven-hour standoff, house found empty 03/31/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 6, 2009 8:41am]
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