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Oldsmar bank robbed

Published Oct. 1, 2005

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

An Oldsmar man allegedly called in a bomb threat to Oldsmar Elementary School on Tuesday then, minutes later, robbed a nearby Barnett Bank, sheriff's officials say.

Everett J. Pierce III, 28, was arrested by Pinellas County sheriff's deputies after a bank employee chased him down in his car. Pierce was trying to escape on a bicycle, officials said.

He was jailed Tuesday afternoon on charges that included armed bank robbery and making a false report of planting a bomb, jail records state.

The bomb threat at Oldsmar Elementary was called in to 911 around noon. Principal David Schmitt said he immediately pulled a fire alarm and evacuated about 700 pupils. No one was hurt.

While police were en route to the school, a robbery was reported at Barnett Bank at 200 Oak Leaf Blvd., about 1{ miles from the school. Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Greg Tita said Pierce walked into the bank holding a box that he said contained a bomb.

After the robber received the money demanded, he left the box in the bank and escaped on the bike, Tita said. The bank employee jumped in his car, chased the bicyclist a short distance, then held Pierce until deputies arrived.

Bank officials declined to comment on the robbery or to give the name of the employee who assisted in the arrest.

"We're not allowed to give that stuff out for legal purposes," said Les Young, Barnett's community relations officer.

The Sheriff's Office also would not release the name of the bank employee Tuesday, citing Barnett Bank's wishes.

The Tampa bomb squad examined the box left in the bank and found it contained only papers, Tita said.

Neither the Sheriff's Office nor the bank would reveal how much money was taken. Tita said the money was recovered.

While the drama unfolded at the bank, children at Oldsmar Elementary were walked to the nearby Oldsmar Community School to wait while their school was searched.

Police and school staff, assisted by two bomb-sniffing dogs, checked every room and, by 3 p.m., declared the building safe.

"The children were not allowed to set foot back in the building, but it will be back to normal" today, Schmitt said.

School buses picked up the children at the community school and took them home at the regular time. Schmitt sent a letter home to parents informing them of the bomb threat and the bank robbery.

One pupil's mother was upset that parents did not learn of the bomb threat until their children got home.

"Somebody should have started making phone calls," said parent Barb Ziegler. "Whoever they could have gotten, they should have."

She said her son, whom she did not want to name, appeared "shell shocked" when he walked in the door.

He "doesn't really understand the kind of danger he was in," Ziegler said. "I know I'm going to sit down and talk with him. You never know how it affects kids."

The bank robbery took place just blocks from Pierce's last known address, 430 Evergreen Drive in Oldsmar, the home of his estranged wife, Kim Mathews. She said her divorce from Pierce will be final in two weeks. The couple have no children.

Mathews accused Pierce of breaking into her home and taking her 10-year-old daughter's bicycle to use in the bank robbery.

Mathews said she last talked to Pierce around Christmas and didn't realize he was still living in the area. She said she was rattled that the robbery took place so close to her home.

"I don't know where he's been," she said. "I told him not to call me."

Mathews said that when she met Pierce he was studying nursing at Hillsborough Community College, in hopes of becoming a pathologist.

Pierce grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and has lived in Florida for about seven years.

Pierce's family in Iowa said they had lost touch with him. Eileen Pierce, who is married to Pierce's father, said they did not know where the son was living and had no telephone number for him.

"What a shock," Eileen Pierce said of his arrest. "We didn't have a whole lot of information about what was going on. Obviously, there was lots going on."

County computer records show Pierce has recent legal troubles. On Feb. 8, he was charged with two counts of forging checks; one count of petty theft from the same incident was dismissed, according to the records.

Pierce was scheduled for a Monday a hearing on the forged checks case, according to the records, but the details of the hearing and the check charges were not available Tuesday.

Oldsmar, normally a quiet city of about 10,000, was reeling with the bomb threat and bank robbery news.

People think "that sort of stuff doesn't happen here," said Ziegler, mother of the Oldsmar pupil. "Yeah right, you're not immune."

_ Times staff writers Don Finley, Diane Steinle and Amy Walsh contributed to this report.