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Couple arrested in Tarpon Springs gas station robbery

TARPON SPRINGS — Less than two hours after a man and a woman robbed a Pinellas Avenue gas station at gunpoint, police say, a Tarpon Springs police sergeant saw the couple at another gas station in Holiday.

Sgt. Michael Trill confronted the pair — Juan Carlos Colon Castro, 43, of Holiday and Hannah D. Vinci, 19, of Tarpon Springs — and was able to hold them until more law enforcement officers arrived, thanks to the help of a 35-year-old Holiday man, police say.

John Guevin was pumping gas nearby when Trill asked him to retrieve the officer's radio from his squad car to call for backup. Guevin was impressed by how calm Trill stayed.

"I was like, 'Wow, am I watching an episode of Cops here or something?' " Guevin said.

It all started about 11:40 p.m. Monday, Tarpon Springs police spokeswoman Barb Templeton said, when Castro and Vinci entered the Shell gas station at 801 N Pinellas Ave. and demanded that the cashier, Johnny Imseis, open the cash register.

Castro was pointing a large silver handgun at Imseis, according to Templeton. Castro walked around the counter and emptied the cash register, grabbing a pack of cigarettes on his way out the door, Templeton said.

As Castro collected the money, Vinci held open the gas station door and stood as a lookout, Templeton said. She covered her hands with her sleeves, likely in an attempt to not leave fingerprints, Templeton said. Vinci later told police that she accepted $50 of the stolen money from Castro.

After the robbery, the thieves fled in their car, and Imseis called police. Officers fanned out from the gas station, checking hotel parking lots for a matching car because they thought the two might have been from out of town, Templeton said.

About 1:20 a.m., Trill spotted a man and a woman who matched the images from the surveillance video, along with another man. The three were across the street from a hotel, at the Hess gas station at 2023 U.S. 19 N in Holiday.

Trill was alone in his vehicle, and time was running out — Vinci and Castro had parked at the side of the gas station, instead of in the front, just as the robbers had done at the Shell gas station robbery.

Vinci and the other man were inside the car. Castro was walking toward the car.

Trill approached them with his gun and demanded that they put their hands into the air and that Castro get down on the ground. Vinci and the other man complied, but Castro put up an argument.

Trill wanted to call for backup, but his radio was in his car.

He feared that the couple were armed and knew that he could not take his eyes off them. That's when he called on Guevin.

"The officer pointed at me and yelled, 'Come here!' " Guevin recalled. "But he never took his eyes off of them, and he never moved his gun an inch. I guess he saw me out of his peripheral vision."

After Guevin retrieved the police radio, Trill radioed in, giving the dispatcher his location and saying that he had Castro and Vinci in front of him.

Trill is no stranger to high-pressure confrontations with potentially armed suspects. He is the officer who shot and wounded Arunya Rouch inside the Tarpon Springs Publix in March after, police say, she shot and killed a co-worker in the parking lot.

Within four minutes Tuesday, about 20 cars from the Tarpon Springs police and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office arrived at the gas station and took the couple into custody.

Castro was charged with armed robbery, and Vinci was charged with principal to armed robbery. Both were being held in the Pinellas County Jail on Tuesday morning. Castro's bail was set at $50,000; Vinci's, at $5,000.

A third individual was also in the vehicle when Castro and Vinci were arrested, but detectives do not think he was involved in the robbery.

Police had not yet found the firearm that was used in the robbery. It was not on Castro or in the automobile at the time of his arrest. He told detectives that the firearm was fake and that he had thrown it into bushes in a wooded area in northern Tarpon Springs before he arrived at the Hess gas station. But officers searched the area that Castro indicated and did not find it.

Tarpon Springs police are not sure whether Castro and Vinci were, in fact, intending to rob the Hess gas station, Templeton said. She acknowledged it would be hard to understand why they would dispose of a weapon before attempting another robbery.

"It's just something of a question mark right now," she said.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Martine Powers can be reached at (727) 445-4224 or mpowers@sptimes.com.

Couple arrested in Tarpon Springs gas station robbery 06/29/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 9:19pm]

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