Bank robbery suspects in custody, I-270 open
ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - One of Washington, D.C.'s busiest roadways played host Tuesday morning to a tense game of hide and seek.
Shortly after 10 a.m., a throng of Montgomery County, Rockville and Maryland State Police cruisers blocked the north and southbound lanes of Interstate 270, near Tuckerman Lane in Bethesda. The bold and unprecedented move followed an armed robbery at the Wells Fargo bank along the 400 block of King Farm Boulevard, in the heart of Rockville's King Farm neighborhood.
At the strike of 10:02 a.m., Wells Fargo tellers sounded the bank's panic alarm. Surveillance cameras captured two men waiving black handguns in the lobby, demanding money. Once tellers complied, police say the two gunmen fled to a getaway car where a third accomplice sat in waiting.
Utilizing "solid intelligence," police brass ordered dozens of squad cars onto I-270. Together the cruisers cordoned-off every inch of pavement, causing traffic to snarl for miles in both directions.
"It's just awful. I've never seen both directions of 270 like this before," motorist Carmel Desroche said. "It was painful."
With their guns drawn, officers walked car-by-car, truck-by-truck, searching for all three armed robbers.
"A lot of yelling, a lot of orders being given, helicopters, dogs barking, sirens, police cars driving by," manhunt eyewitness Carlton Higdon recalled.
Higdon was commuting to his job at the National Institute of Health when squad cars barricaded all 12 north and southbound lanes. The Gaithersburg resident placed his gold Acura sedan in park; unaware he'd found himself a front row seat to a law enforcement takedown.
"Just two cars behind me. They were right there. I could see it all. I saw one person get arrested, and then another one was next to my vehicle," Higdon added. "Everything was right there, it was a surreal moment."
Clenching onto his cell phone, Higdon hit record as police pried open the doors to a silver Kia Sorento. One-by-one, officers yanked three men from the SUV, placing them face down on the blacktop and in handcuffs. One of the men, sources say, was wearing a Prince George's County Department of Public Works uniform and reflective vest. Bizarre, police contend, as the county fired him in Aug. 2011 because he failed to show up for multiple shifts.
Scene witness Rotimi Abimbola was also at the front of the line.
"I was scared for my safety and my life because they were facing in our direction, so I definitely knew that whatever or whoever they were looking for was behind me," she said.
Detectives canvassed the area and recovered a wad of cash in the bed of a dump truck parked nearby. It's believed the robbers chucked their loot upon realizing officers were closing in. While patting down the trio, police retrieved a handgun. They expect to find a second weapon once they obtain a search warrant for the suspect vehicle.
"It's not worth it. You had your hour of fun and now you're going to pay for a very long time," Higdon concluded.
Northbound traffic re-opened around 10:50 a.m., with southbound traffic opening in segments around 11:10 a.m.
On Tuesday evening, Montgomery County Police officially released the identities of the suspects: Earl Michael Kenney, age 55, of Capital Heights, Maryland; Michael Anthony Heard, age 40, of Washington, D.C.; Ricko Damon Ford, age 20, of Forestville, Maryland.
Kenney and Heard have been charged with one count of armed robbery and one count of using a firearm in the commission of a violent felony, while Ford has been charged with one count of armed robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
According to MCP, all are being held pending a bond review hearing.
Now that the incident has passed, some are questioning whether police went too far and endangered the public by shutting down such a major highway. Others think officers absolutely did the right thing.
"They have to from their experience and their gut -- in this case, it was to tighten the noose the way they could, which was to stop traffic and make sure that they could potentially trap these guys," said forensic psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren.
Van Susteren added that while police have to consider the risk of getting into a shootout with the suspects with innocent people all around, they also have to consider the risk of future violence if the men get away:
"Oftentimes what you see with criminals is that they become more and more audacious, bolder with each robbery."
Abimbola says the whole thing was terrifying, but she isn't upset with police:
"I think that they did what they could, given the information that they had and the amount of time."