BRANDON — More than 24 hours later, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies are still searching for the suspected serial bank robber who shot a Brinks truck driver and the Good Samaritan who ran to his aid outside a Brandon credit union on Friday.
The agency provided a brief update Saturday evening on the two men injured during the attempted robbery, which took place at the GTE Financial branch off East Bloomingdale Avenue just before noon on Friday.
Both received a gunshot wound to the torso as they fought off the armed suspect, who attacked the Brinks driver while he was replenishing cash in an ATM outside the building.
The driver was treated and released from a nearby hospital Saturday, while the second man – who helped ward off the attacker - received a hospital visit from Sheriff Chad Chronister.
The Brandon man was waiting in the credit union parking lot for his wife to finish a transaction inside when he witnessed the holdup and intervened, Chronister said. The Sheriff’s office declined to release the name of either victim.
“We are thankful for the bravery of this Good Samaritan. His actions saved the life of the Brinks truck driver who was the target of this would-be robber,” Chronister said of the man, a retired Hillsborough County employee. “Finding this suspect is one of my top priorities. We are still actively working this investigation in coordination with the FBI.”
The Good Samaritan underwent surgery and was still recovering Saturday at Tampa General Hospital.
“He said if he had to do it all over again, he would,” the Sheriff said.
Deputies have asked for the public’s help in identifying their attacker, a black man with dreadlocks who is believed to be about 6 feet tall.
Security footage showed that man fleeing the scene in a stolen getaway car that was eventually found parked inside the Bridgeport Apartments complex, located off Kings Avenue near the J.C. Handly Sports Complex – less than a mile away from the scene of the shooting. A K-9 unit then tracked the man’s scent to an eight-unit building in the rear of the complex.
The Sheriff’s office evacuated residents and secured a perimeter around the complex, which was searched by the FBI, a SWAT team, the agency’s Aviation Unit, a K-9 unit, and the Bomb Squad. After a more than five-hour standoff, the Sheriff’s office received a search warrant and keys to the apartment where the man was thought to be barricaded inside.
But after a SWAT team sent a robot inside the apartment, they discovered that no one was there.
"We felt comfortable that the suspect was in this apartment building," Chronister said at a Friday press conference. "We were all surprised he wasn't in those apartments when we sent the robot in."
The suspect likely left the apartment complex in another vehicle before law enforcement ever arrived, Chronister said. Deputies remained at the complex through the night and into Saturday, but said that residents are not in any danger.
During Friday’s search, 14 Hillsborough County schools in the area were placed on “lock-in” status, the Sheriff’s office said. Residents of Bridgewater Apartments weren’t allowed back into their homes until about 6 p.m.
Investigators gathered surveillance videos from the complex and other nearby security cameras, and continued pouring over footage on Saturday. The getaway car was also being combed for DNA evidence.
The suspect in Friday’s attempted robbery should be considered armed and dangerous, the Sheriff’s office said. Based on footage recovered from the credit union, investigators believe the man is the same suspect linked to several other bank robberies throughout the Tampa Bay area in recent weeks.
A dreadlocked man used many of the same methods to rob a Mid-Florida Credit Union in Brandon on October 22, 2018, then went on to rob three more Mid-Florida locations this year, investigators said: the Waters Avenue branch in Tampa on February 22, the Park Boulevard branch in Pinellas Park on June 19, and the U.S. Highway 19 north branch in Clearwater on October 9.
The same suspect is believed to have robbed a Suncoast Credit Union off Miller Road in Valrico on August 27. Investigators also suspect the same man is responsible for two carjackings - on August 26 and November 4 - at Betty’s Coin Laundry off Fourth Street north in St. Petersburg.
Anyone who recognizes the suspect is asked to contact the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at 813-247-8200. To be eligible for a cash reward, call Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay at at 1-800-873-TIPS (8477).