Bank Heist Foiled; Downtown Cleared Safely

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Lt. David Sacco keeps the suspected bank robber on the ground on Main Street on Friday afternoon. A device thought to be an explosive can be seen sitting on the sidewalk by the suspect's knee.View Slide Show

Update: Robert A. Bywaters was found guilty of armed robbery in Berkshire Superior Court on March 17, 2010, and sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. 


May 24, 12:45 a.m. 

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Residents along Main Street began returning to their homes shortly after 11 p.m. on Friday after a state police bomb squad cleared what was believed to be a pound of military-grade TNT and a detonator device.

The city's main drag was effectively shut down for nearly 8 hours.

Using two remote control robots, the bomb squad examined and later transferred the 10-inch rectangular package of presumed explosives into a specialized containment chamber brought in from Weston. The package was to be detonated at the sandbanks off Curran Highway.

Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco would not confirm late last night if it had been determined to be an explosive.

The package was dropped on the sidewalk in front of McClellands by the suspect after he was wrestled to the ground after a daylight bank robbery earlier in the afternoon at Hoosac Bank.

Police say the Schenectady, N.Y., man was also armed with a .380 semi-automatic handgun. It was reported later that it was actually an airgun that fires plastic pellets.

No one was hurt in the robbery although bank employees were shaken up by the incident.

The suspect's van was cordoned off in the parking lot at Big Y. Police had been awaiting a search warrant before entering the vehicle.

The van was examined by the bomb squad's robots and several boxes were later taken from it. A dog that was in the vehicle had apparently been removed by animal control sometime before.

The van was towed away by Dean's Towing Service shortly after 2 a.m. and the parking lot was cleared for use.

Bank President Stephen Crowe was in his fourth-floor office when he got a phone call that there was a possible robbery in progress downstairs. He ran down the stairs and actually passed the suspect in the hallway as the robber fled the building.

"The police were right here. They were very responsive and extremely professional," said Crowe. "Our employees were absolutely fantastic."

He said the bank workers did what they were trained to do in such an incident. The bank has collaborated with the local police on training "so we both know what to do." While there had never been a robbery at Hoosac Bank during his time there, Crowe said there had been a "bad situation" some 20 years ago at a bank he was at in Lexington.

Employees were kept in the bank, away from the Main Street side, to be interviewed by police. The second man that had been taken into custody by police had refused to remain in the bank after the robbery, said Crowe.

Morocco said the second man did not appear to have anything to do with the robbery.

Crowe said the bank would be open this morning for regular hours. It also has two branches, one in Williamstown and a loan office in Adams.

After the suspected explosive package was removed, local and state police examined the scene outside the bank and removed a backpack containing an unknown amount of money taken by the robber.

The last bank robbery in the Berkshires occurred in 2004 when two men robbed the Credit Union of the Berkshires of more than $100,000. Both men were convicted and sentenced to prison.

There hasn't been a bank robbery in North County in recent memory, and certainly not involving explosives. Three Williams students were charged after trying to set off a homemade explosive on Cole Field in Williamstown last year.

The excitement generated wild speculation and rumors about shootings, hostages and numerous robbers. However, there was no gunplay, no hostages and, at post time, only one confirmed robbery suspect who was in custody.

Where were you when it went down? How did you find out the news? Tell us by posting in the comment section below.

Edited May 24, 1:30 p.m., to delete 'breaking news' from headline




May 23, 8:45 p.m.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Main Street remained blocked off this evening because a suspected bank robber dropped what police believe is 1-pound of military-grade TNT and a detonator device.

Police were waiting for a bomb disposal unit from Weston at press time.

The robbery suspect, identified in Friday's police log as Robert Albert Bywaters of Schenectady, N.Y., is being held in the North Adams lockup.

The robbery attempt at Hoosac Bank was called in at about 3:30 this afternoon. Police descended on the bank within minutes, blocking off the area around the bank on Main Street and the parking lot off Center Street.

Witnesses could hear police yelling at pedestrians to get off the street. Officers armed with automatic weapons were patrolling the area. The suspect was apprehended by several officers as soon as he exited the bank onto Main Street.

"He had a gun, a .380 semi-automatic and he also claimed he had a bomb on him. The North Adams Police Department took him down as he was exiting the bank," said Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco. "We did recover a bag. How much money is in the bag is yet to be determined. The bag is still on the concrete."

The bag, the man's hat and a rectangular package remained on the sidewalk in front of McClelland's, two doors down from the bank.

Those inside the bank were shaken up but unhurt, said Richard Alcombright, vice president of retail banking at Hoosac and a city councilor, in a phone interview shortly after the robbery attempt. The bank employees had remained in the bank to be interviewed by police.

Morocco said the police began evacuating the area around the bank after the Massachusetts Bomb Squad's preliminary investigation pointed to the real possibility of high explosives.

The squad used a remote control robot to examine the suspected bomb and detonator.

"As soon as we realized what we had ... that there was a potential for a bomb there, we began evacuating. We've evacuated from American Legion Drive up to Eagle Street," Morocco said.

<L2>The suspect's dark blue Dodge Ram 1500 van parked in the Big Y has been cordoned off for a 100-foot perimeter while police deal with the potential threat on Main Street.

Police at the scene could not confirm if there was a second explosive in the van.

Morocco declined to comment at this time on what the suspect had said or done inside the bank other than that he had told clerks he had a gun and a bomb.

The suspect has been charged with bank robbery and is not cooperating with police. He has asked for lawyer, said the commissioner, who added that more charges are pending.

Scanner reports said that one or two men were walking around the bank with head teller. According to uncomfirmed reports, the man had said "If you play by my rules you won't get hurt."

A second man taken into custody and described as a person of interest is now not believed to linked to the robbery. Morocco said he had come under suspicion because he had a dispute with a teller and was creating a disturbance in the bank.

There were possibly two customers and between 10 and 20 employees in the bank.

Reports of a third man captured in relation to the robbery were incorrect, said Morocco.

Staff Reporter Jenn Thomas contributed to this report.

Tags: bank robbery,   

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CSX Acquiring Pan Am Railways

Staff Reports
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — CSX Corp. says it has signed an agreement to acquire North Billerica-headquartered Pan Am Railways Inc. 
Pan Am is considered the largest regional railroad with a 1,700-mile rail network in New England and New York and a partial interest in the more than 600-mile Pan Am Southern system. Its tracks run through the Hoosac Tunnel. 
"Pan Am is pleased to reach this agreement with CSX, a North American leader in rail-based freight transportation," Pan Am President David A. Fink said in a statement announcing the deal. "This is great news for New England shippers and the national freight network overall."
Pan Am, previously known as Guilford Rail System, had indicated earlier in the year that it was up for sale. 
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