Tucson cops have bomb squad robot check out man

  The Tucson cops handcuffed this man to a bus stop and then sent a bomb squad robot to check him out.  
No explosives found on GI

Benjie Sanders / Arizona Daily Star

UA-area holdup ends peacefully after robot is used
By Laurie Laine and Becky Pallack

An Army sergeant stationed at Fort Huachuca was arrested Monday morning after trying to rob a university-area bank by claiming he had explosives in his mouth, Tucson police said.

The incident ended peacefully after the suspect was handcuffed to a railing by police outside the bank and checked by a remote-controlled police robot. No explosives were found on the man, and no injuries were reported.

Police said Jeffrey Leon Lewis Jr., 33, walked into the Wells Fargo Bank, 1701 E. Speedway, shortly after 9 a.m. wearing transparent shipping tape across his face and an Ace bandage around his wrist.

He showed employees a note stating that he had a bomb in his mouth, authorities said.

Witnesses said the ordeal inside the bank was over in about 10 minutes, but not before police rushed into the bank and wrestled the robber to the floor.

Traffic was stopped for several hours on Speedway near North Campbell Avenue, near the University of Arizona, starting around 9:30 a.m., said Sgt. Mark Robinson, a Tucson Police Department spokesman. Fearing the handcuffed Lewis might have explosives on him, police evacuated businesses in the area and turned away countless students trying to get onto the UA campus.

Lewis reportedly told police later that he tried to rob the bank on Jan. 22 in the same manner. In the first incident, Lewis was not apprehended and left the bank for an unknown reason without any money, Robinson said.

Lewis, who lives at Fort Huachuca, has been on vacation since last week. He is a member of the 556th Ordnance Company (Maintenance Support), said Eric Hortin, a deputy public affairs officer at the fort, near Sierra Vista.

Lewis has worked as an electronics repair specialist while in the Army, Hortin said. Lewis enlisted in October 2001.

Brenda Underwood, 40, a music teacher at the nearby First Southern Christian School, was waiting in the bank lobby for a friend. She noticed the man entering the bank, and then he sat in the chair across from her, she said.

Underwood said she asked the man if he had been in an accident. She said she asked, "Are you in a lot of pain?"

The man shook his head in response to all her questions, appearing frantic, nervous and aggravated, she said.

She watched Lewis enter the bank vault, where he handed a note to a bank employee.

Mark Frug¨¦, 35, was at the bank to open a new account. He noticed Lewis was having trouble breathing.

"A panicked bank employee was almost in tears trying to communicate," Frug¨¦ said. "There was a lot of yelling."

Then police arrived and forced the man to the ground, he said.

"Someone yelled there was a bomb," Frug¨¦ said. "Then police told everyone to evacuate."

Frug¨¦, a maintenance supervisor, and his two children moved to Tucson a week ago from Louisiana. The hurricane evacuees are planning to start a new life here.

Officers took Lewis out of the bank and handcuffed him to a railing across the street, getting away from him in case the explosives detonated. A bomb squad from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base was called to the scene.

Using a bomb-detecting robot and dogs, specially trained officers determined there were no explosives on the man's body, in his backpack or in his car.

Lewis was booked in the Pima County jail, charged with two counts of armed robbery. Bond had not been set.

ˇń Contact reporter Becky Pallack at 629-9412 or bpallack@azstarnet.com.