UPPER MARLBORO

Bank Robbery Suspect Kills Himself After Chase

A state trooper trains his gun on a vehicle driven by three bank robbery suspects in Upper Marlboro. One man fatally shot himself. The other two were captured after a foot chase, police said.
A state trooper trains his gun on a vehicle driven by three bank robbery suspects in Upper Marlboro. One man fatally shot himself. The other two were captured after a foot chase, police said. (By Jim Lauer)
By Fredrick Kunkle and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 18, 2006

One of three bank robbery suspects fatally shot himself inside his demolished getaway car yesterday morning after a high-speed chase that began in Charles County and ended with a crash in the middle of a busy commercial strip in Upper Marlboro, authorities said.

One of three bank robbery suspects fatally shot himself inside his demolished getaway car yesterday morning after a high-speed chase that began in Charles County and ended with a crash in the middle of a busy commercial strip in Upper Marlboro, authorities said.

Caught between a Maryland state trooper and a Charles County sheriff's deputy, the suspect took his life with a large-caliber handgun after the trooper fired at him in the back seat of the getaway car and missed, state police spokesman Greg Shipley said.

The other two suspects were captured after a foot chase through a car dealership and the Marlboro Square shopping center.

"I tell you what, it was very scary," said Jay Wedick, 47, general manager of the Ron Bortnick Ford dealership, who saw a man dash through his parking lot, followed by officers with weapons drawn.

Police closed the north- and southbound lanes of Route 301 for at least four hours while they investigated the shooting, snarling traffic near the Route 4 interchange and virtually shutting down business at the Marlboro Square and Marlboro Crossroads shopping centers, which flank both sides of Route 301.

Last evening, police were unable to confirm the identity of the dead suspect, Shipley said. Police said both bullets fired by the trooper hit the car, not the occupant.

Sheriff's department officials said the incident began about 9:30 a.m. after three armed men held up a Wachovia Bank branch in Waldorf. The men, armed with a shotgun and a handgun, entered the bank and announced the robbery. Two jumped over the counter and began taking money from the drawers, sheriff's spokeswoman Kristen Timko said. The third man ordered employees and customers to lie on the lobby floor, she said.

The three suspects then sped north on Route 301 in a four-door 1996 Mercury Mystique with sheriff's deputies in pursuit. A trooper driving south on Route 301 joined the chase after hearing a police bulletin, Shipley said.

Near Route 4, the suspects' car tried to swerve around cars stopped at the light, hit a white van and rolled onto its side in the median, Shipley said.

Two suspects got out and ran as the deputy and trooper aimed their weapons at the car, Shipley said. The third suspect, sitting in the rear seat, ignored orders to show his hands, Shipley said.

After seeing the suspect raise a shotgun, the trooper fired twice. As the officer ducked behind the door of his car for cover, he heard a shot coming from the getaway car and saw the suspect's head move suddenly, Shipley said.

In the car, troopers found a handgun with a spent casing and a sawed-off shotgun with a spent shell. The suspect, who was wearing camouflage paint, had shot himself in the head, Shipley said.

Eyewitnesses recalled hearing several shots. "It sounded like a firecracker," said James A. Lauer, 44, a courier driving south on Route 301 with his 7-year-old daughter. He pulled into the car dealership. "It happened in a nanosecond."

Denika Williams, 30, of Upper Marlboro said she was cutting hair in the Scissor Sharp salon when employees started shouting. "They said, 'They're shooting! They're shooting!' and we ran to the back of the shop," she said.

Lauer and other eyewitnesses said they thought the sheriff's deputy's car bumped the suspects' car in an apparent effort to stop it, but police said there was no contact between the vehicles. The suspects' car hit only the van before crashing, Shipley said. He said the van driver was not injured.

Police fanned through Marlboro Square looking for the two suspects, who were no longer armed, Shipley said.

One was captured behind the car dealership, the other near a KFC franchise.

Timko identified the two men in custody as Dontae T. Jefferson, 28, of Baltimore and Robert A. Paniagua, 19, of Towson, Md. Each was charged with armed robbery, assault and theft, she said in a news release.


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