ST. PETERSBURG — A man avoided an armed robbery charge for about an hour Thursday by jumping into a chilly lake and wading until police Tased him and pulled him out.
Police said Robert J. Keaton, 27, of 1947 27th St. S, robbed a Cash America Pawn Shop at gunpoint, pistol-whipped a clerk, rammed two police cars while trying to flee his girlfriend's apartment complex, and jumped into the water.
Keaton was arrested after an hourlong, watery standoff at the Reserve at Lake Pointe, 5800 Lynn Lake Drive.
Keaton asked police to call his girlfriend, shouting out her cell phone number. Then he asked for his mother. Both pleaded for him to give up. Keaton refused, and police in an inflatable boat used a Taser to subdue him, said police Sgt. Al White, head of the police robbery squad.
Keaton faces charges of armed robbery, aggravated battery on a police officer and fleeing and eluding police.
Police did not find the gun they said Keaton used to rob the pawnshop, 3805 34th St. S, about 9:20 a.m., police said. He used a shirt to cover his face, demanded a clerk open a safe and pistol-whipped her when she said she could not open it. An employee gave him cash from a register, and he drove away in a small golden Hyundai, White said.
The unidentified clerk was taken to a hospital for treatment. Cash America manager Chris Prevost declined comment.
Police tracked Keaton to the apartment complex — they refused to say how — where they found him trying to leave in another vehicle. Keaton dropped off some money at his girlfriend's apartment at the Reserve, White said.
The Hyundai belongs to Keaton's girlfriend, who was not identified.
After smashing the two police cars — a marked cruiser and an unmarked truck — Keaton ran into a small lake at the complex and stayed there for almost an hour in waist-deep water, White said.
At one point, Keaton asked White, standing on the bank, for cigarettes. White gave Keaton one that was lit.
White said police decided to Tase Keaton because, with the air temperature around 50 degrees, they worried about hypothermia. Keaton, dressed in a tank top and shorts, was shivering and told White it "was really cold."
Police questioned Keaton about other robberies of Cash American pawnshops in the past year because the vehicle and suspect's build were similar.
White said Keaton was in a good mood at the station. "He thanked me for the cigarettes," he said.