Public Information Officer
It was last year when a group of violent bandits from South Florida was holding up banks along the I-95 corridor, as far away as Volusia County and points north. But the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office was ready for the gang with a rapid response plan designed to stop the robbers in their tracks.
On Dec. 12, 2005, the Sheriff’s Office’s plan was put to the test when the Prosperity Bank in DeLand was robbed. The plan worked to perfection, leading to the capture of the four suspects as they fled southbound on I-95 heading back to their home base. Earlier this week, Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson awarded a unit commendation to 20 employees who were instrumental in the successful capture, calling it the ultimate in teamwork. “This was a dangerous operation, and a lot of things could have gone wrong,” Sheriff Johnson said during Tuesday’s awards ceremony at the Sheriff’s Office’s Stephen Saboda Training Center in Daytona Beach. “I’m very proud of all of you for putting this group out of business. They were escalating the violence, and it would have only been a matter of time before someone got killed.”
The plan had several key components. At first report of a bank robbery, patrol deputies along with the Sheriff’s Office’s helicopter would be dispatched to key escape routes heading southbound out of the county. Surrounding jurisdictions would be notified so they could quickly join in the search. And deputies would be instructed to look for the suspects rather than the vehicle in which they left the bank since they usually switched vehicles immediately after the robberies. On the afternoon of Dec. 12, 2005, it didn’t take long for the plan to come together. Within minutes of the bank robbery, dozens of deputies were positioned along the interstates. About 40 minutes after the bank was robbed, Captain Mike Coffin was the first ground unit to spot the suspects in a sport utility vehicle headed southbound on I-95. The driver’s deadlock hairstyle matched the hairstyle from previous robberies and was the first clue that Captain Coffin had the right vehicle. From there, the chase was on, with the Sheriff’s Office’s helicopter keeping an eye on the suspects’ travel route and dispatchers quickly processing information and getting it to responding patrol and K-9 units in the field. The Florida Highway Patrol and Brevard County Sheriff’s Office joined the pursuit, and the suspects were captured after they bailed out of their car and bolted into the woods in Brevard County. Despite coming under fire during the pursuit, no law enforcement officers were injured. “This was a great piece of police work and great teamwork on everyone’s part,” added Sheriff Johnson.
Sheriff Johnson awarded the unit commendation to 17 deputies, one telecommunicator and the two-member helicopter flight crew who were instrumental in the capture. “Their actions on that day reflect the highest standards of professional law enforcement and bring honor to them and to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office,” states the citation that accompanied the award. The recipients were as follows: Major Robert Jones; captains Mike Coffin and Marty Hatchett; sergeants Rick Boltz, Joseph Bryant, Al Perrotta and Bruce Morrow; deputies William Armstrong, Adam Clausen, Hal Lee, Brian Henderson, Jay Hawman, Michael Reese, Everett Robinett, Michael Webb and Herb Stoppelbein; investigator Tom Tatum; helicopter crew Michael Markovich and David Swartzfager; and telecommunicator Christina Crane.