NEW PORT RICHEY — For the month of August, the owners and workers of businesses at 7 Springs Plaza had been on high alert, anxious, watching. The House of Tans, a small tanning business often staffed by just one young woman, had been hit twice by the same robber, a desperate masked man with a knife. The counter is close to the front door, so the robberies were quick — run in, wave the knife, demand cash and run out.
The second time he hit the place, the same woman happened to be working.
"Really?" she said, according to a deputy's report. "Again?"
"Yeah, again," the robber said.
The tanning shop, on State Road 54 near Seven Springs Boulevard, started locking the door frequently during the day and having customers knock to get in.
Nobody really thought he'd go for a third time.
A few minutes after noon on Tuesday, Larry Truitt, owner of Rocky's Philly Cheesesteaks, saw the man run out of the store. He had his staff call 911 and he rushed over to the pawnshop next door.
"He just did it again!" Truitt said. Pawn Star owner Frank Bishop grabbed his gun and headed for the back door. He'd chased the man after the second robbery, but he got away. That time, Bishop ran out his front door but the suspect ran behind the plaza, skirting along the Anclote River, and vanished.
This time, Bishop told himself, this guy wasn't getting away.
He had his gun drawn as the suspect rounded the corner. Bishop told him to stop. The robber ran toward the river, tripped and tumbled down the embankment and into the water. He began sloshing his way to the other side. Bishop had his 18-year-old son, Dillon Bishop, run across the river on Seven Springs Boulevard and cut him off. Other people from the plaza joined the chase, including a Florida Highway Patrol trooper who happened to be parked in a 7-Eleven parking lot on the corner.
The suspect was tackled as he dripped his way onto land. His name, according to authorities, is Shane Austin Hunter, 32, a Dunedin native who lived a few blocks away at 7418 Abington Ave. in New Port Richey. Bishop recognized him as a customer who bought a Wii video game console on Aug. 13 — the same day as the second House of Tans robbery.
"He's not only been robbing the place, he's been frequenting the plaza," said Bishop, whose voice was hoarse Wednesday from shouting so much at the suspect the day before.
Hunter confessed to the crimes and said he did it because he is addicted to prescription pills, the Pasco Sheriff's Office said. He was in prison for more than five months in 2007 for obtaining controlled substances by fraud, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Detectives are investigating to see if Hunter is a suspect in any other cases. He matches the description of a violent purse snatcher who pushed a 73-year-old New Port Richey woman down Sunday and broke her hip.
"Detectives are closely looking at him as a person of interest in the case," said Pasco sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin.
Hunter was in the Pasco County jail Wednesday on $150,000 bail, charged with three counts of armed robbery with a deadly weapon.
Kira Frisbie, a 19-year-old employee of House of Tans, wasn't one of the women robbed, but said these past few weeks have been horrible. "Finally, the nightmare is over, and it feels like the stress has been taken off our shoulders," Frisbie said.
She is thankful for everyone who helped catch the robber. She said the two workers who were robbed are doing okay. "Somebody who just wants a quick couple bucks," she said, "is going to instill fear in somebody for years."