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Clearwater bank robber takes elderly man's car for getaway

CLEARWATER — A brazen robber wearing a brown fedora and sunglasses barged into a BB&T bank wielding a handgun about 10 a.m. Thursday.

He ordered employees out of their offices and made everyone get on the ground. He demanded money, then car keys.

The man left the bank with cash, then tried to take several cars in the parking lot. When that didn't work, he tried to take two other vehicles by force. That failed, too.

So he ran into a nearby Radio Shack, where 85-year-old Bernie Herman had stopped to pick up some electrical tape.

The robber put the gun in Herman's face and demanded his keys.

Herman was scheduled to give a lecture later that day about how to use humor to reduce stress. A gregarious snowbird from Massachusetts, Herman actually thought of putting his lesson into practice by saying to the man: "Would you take a credit card?"

But he thought better of it. He coolly and silently handed over the keys. The robber took off.

The holdup left many in the bank at 23684 U.S. 19 terrified. Clearwater police reported no arrests Thursday. They said the same robber is suspected in a Hillsborough County holdup.

Herman had his back to the Radio Shack door when an employee began yelling about a man with a gun.

"I didn't know what the hell he was he talking about, but I found out very quick what he was talking about," Herman recalled Thursday evening.

Herman turned around and came face to face with the man's gun, which he described as "a real big, heavy piece."

"He took this big gun, put it about five inches from my forehead and said 'give me your car keys, give me your car keys,'? " Herman said. "This guy was absolutely crazy."

The retired lawyer handed over the keys to his 2007 Honda Accord, which police later found abandoned at a nearby Wal-Mart.

Police used dogs to search for the robber but were unable to find him. No one was seriously injured in the holdup, police said.

Herman said police returned the car to him Thursday after they processed it for evidence.

Herman said he did not get a good look at the man. "I didn't even see his face. I couldn't take my eyes off that gun," he said.

Clearwater police described the robber as a white man who is between 45 and 60 years old, stands 5 feet 10 to 6 feet tall and weighs 200 to 220 pounds. He was last seen wearing a black jacket, black shirt and black shoes.

Herman said he lectures about stress management and other topics, one of several hobbies that grew out of his 50 years of experience practicing law. He said he put his own stress management strategies to work during the ordeal Thursday. He tried to think of funny things to say to the man, but decided to keep them to himself.

The robbery did not deter him from giving his lecture later Thursday.

"I told them the story," Herman said. "They almost didn't believe me."

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4162.

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Can you help?

Anyone with information about the BB&T robbery can call the Clearwater police tip line at (727) 562-4422.

Clearwater bank robber takes elderly man's car for getaway 03/19/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 20, 2009 9:27am]
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