December 20, 2014

Elyria
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UPDATED: Police say supected bank robber called in high school bomb threat

Police take into custody the man suspected of robbing Dollar Bank on Monday morning. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

Police take into custody the man suspected of robbing Dollar Bank on Monday morning. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — A man suspected of robbing a Dollar Bank branch on West River Road North on Monday may have been responsible for a bomb threat at Elyria High School earlier in the day, police said.

The suspect, Brett Benson, 40, of Avon, was arrested about one hour after the robbery at Dollar Bank on West River Road North. The robbery was reported at 11:11 a.m., an hour after a bomb threat was called into Elyria police at 10:18 a.m.

Benson previously was cited for theft and obstructing official business on March 15 after allegedly stealing from RadioShack and then falling down a ravine, where he had to be rescued by firefighters. Benson fell after he was chased by employees of RadioShack, police said.

The man who called in the bomb threat Monday said a “John Thomas” had planted a bomb inside the school, but the caller could not tell police where “Thomas” lived or where the bomb was placed. After several questions from the dispatcher, the caller hung up.

“I watched the guy put it there … He put it inside the school somewhere. I don’t know where, but I know it was a bomb. All I know is it was a real bomb,” the caller told the dispatcher before hanging up.

Students at the school were evacuated and the school was searched extensively, but no bomb was found. The threat was made about two hours after students at the school held a peaceful rally in front of the Washington Building in support of a newly-formed gay and straight alliance at the school.

Police said the threat was not related to the rally. Police were searching the school when they received a report that the bank had been robbed.

Benson was arrested about an hour after the robbery behind PNC Bank on Midway Mall Boulevard by Elyria police Capt. Chris Costantino, who received a report of a suspicious man near the wooded area behind the bank. Costantino said Benson had a substantial amount of cash, and bank employees identified him as the robber.

Costantino applauded the quick work of the Elyria Police Department and Lorain County Sheriff’s Office in arresting a suspect.

“The guys did a great job,” he said.

Bank workers told police the suspect had a hood pulled tightly around his face during the robbery, and he approached a teller, handing her a note. No weapon was displayed and the man did not speak, but the note indicated that he was robbing the bank.

After an investigation of Monday’s robbery, police also tied Benson to a robbery at Talmer Bank and Trust on North Abbe Road on Wednesday.

Costantino said a similar note was used in both robberies.

The suspect in the robbery at Talmer Bank was described as an unshaven white man in his late 40s or early 50s. A passer-by told police the suspect in that robbery got into a white Nissan Maxima parked on Antioch and drove away alone, heading west.

Officers found items believed to be related to the Talmer Bank robbery, including a jacket, along North Abbe.

Benson, who has an extensive criminal record with convictions for burglary, robbery, theft and aggravated drug trafficking, was charged with two counts of aggravated robbery and one count of inducing panic. He is being held at Lorain County Jail on no bond, pending a court appearance.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.