Bank Robber Fatally Shot by a Man Who Trailed Him Outside : Crime: A boat builder says he got a gun out of his van and told the bandit to ‘freeze,’ then fired when the gunman threatened him.
A man who robbed a Bank of America branch was shot and killed Monday by a customer who followed him outside, retrieved a gun from his van, loaded it and fired several rounds at the suspect, authorities said.
The customer, Robert Eeg, 42, of Dana Point, said later Monday: “It’s sad that anyone had to get killed. It’s sad that it had to come down to this. But he was an extremely dangerous man, and I didn’t want innocent people to get hurt.”
Eeg, a boat builder, said that he was making a deposit at the bank when the robbery occurred and that he followed the bandit into the parking area. After getting a gun from his van, Eeg said, he told the man to “freeze.”
The bandit then pointed a gun at Eeg and lunged at him from a few feet away, Eeg said. That’s when Eeg shot him, he said.
The robber, who police believe held up a Mission Viejo auto-rental firm and escaped with a car about 10 minutes before the bank robbery, was pronounced dead at the scene, Sheriff’s Lt. Richard J. Olson said.
Officials later identified the suspect as Benjamin James Conkle, 31. Investigators had no address for him but said they contacted his next of kin late Monday in Poway in the San Diego area. Eeg was not arrested, and it was not immediately clear if he faced any charges.
“This is all still under investigation,” Olson said, adding that it was not illegal for the man to have an unloaded weapon in his vehicle--if it was not concealed.
The holdup drama began at 1:10 p.m. when an employee of Budget Rent-A-Car on Marguerite Parkway in Mission Viejo called deputies to report that a man wearing a dark-colored motorcycle helmet burst into the office and forced employees to turn over a late-model, maroon Mitsubishi Mirage.
“The guy was kind of waving the gun around,” said a Budget Rent-A-Car employee, who identified himself only as Jerry. “He said, ‘Give me the keys to this red car here.’ The manager felt it best to just hand them over and not mess with it.”
The robber was still wearing the helmet when he burst into the Taj Mahal branch of the Bank of America located behind the Laguna Hills Mall on Calle de la Plata, police and witnesses said.
Armed with a pistol, he ordered everyone to lie on the floor and demanded cash from several tellers, said Fred Reagan, a spokesman for the FBI.
Harold Guggenheimer, a Leisure World resident who was inside the bank during the robbery, said the robber appeared frantic.
He “yelled, ‘everybody get on the floor!’ ” Guggenheimer said. “He was screaming, ‘Give me all the 20s and 100s!”’
Guggenheimer said he peered out the bank window when the bandit left the building and headed for the Mirage, which was parked next to Eeg’s white Nissan van.
A few seconds later, Guggenheimer said he spotted a man briskly following the bandit.
Eeg said he had gone into the bank to make a deposit while his secretary stayed outside in the van, the engine still running.
Eeg, interviewed at his home Monday night, said he feared that the robber might harm his secretary.
“I thought he was going to kidnap my secretary. This man had a gun,” he said.
According to Guggenheimer, watching from inside the bank, Eeg slowly opened the driver’s door of the van and got inside before the robber could get to his own car.
“I was wondering what he (the customer) was doing,” Guggenheimer said. “Then I saw him with a gun.”
Guggenheimer said the customer crept to the rear of the van, shielding himself “like a professional.” He then apparently ordered the man to halt, Guggenheimer related.
But the robber lunged at the now-armed customer, Guggenheimer said. “The bandit got practically to within a foot of him,” he added.
Eeg confirmed that scenario.
Police said Eeg fired at least three shots, striking the robber in the chest.
Olson said he could not say if the robber returned the fire, adding that investigators retrieved a pistol near his body. An undisclosed amount of money taken in the robbery also was recovered.
Jenny Wall, an attorney whose office is located directly above the bank, said that when she heard “the series of bangs,” she rushed to the window to see what was happening in the parking lot below.
Wall said a man was standing over the robber, who was lying on his back behind the van.
After the shooting, she said, the man walked slowly back to the bank and waited for police. Officers interviewed him for several hours.
FBI Agent Reagan said it appeared that Eeg fired at the robber to protect his secretary.
While law enforcement authorities dusted for fingerprints and searched the stolen vehicle, curious onlookers, many of them retirees from nearby Leisure World, gazed at the body, which was partially covered by a yellow blanket. Occasionally, a detective lifted the blanket to reveal the body of the dead man, who was still wearing the helmet.
“It’s so sad to see something like this happen,” said Marge Taylor, 68, a Leisure World resident. “I’m looking at him and I’m thinking that it is so sad because this is someone’s son or grandson.”
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