A New Waverly man is in jail after being charged in the robbery of the First Financial Bank on Friday in which the stickup man claimed to have a bomb, police said.
No one was injured in the robbery, and authorities recovered no explosive device after apprehending a suspect, 47-year-old George Vanschenck, as he hid in a local health club.
Vanschenck, a parolee from New York now living in New Waverly, surrendered without incident. Vanschenck has had previous convictions for similar robberies in New York, authorities said.
Police searched the wooded area and creek by the old Tractor Supply for evidence. Though they found no bomb, police did recover the stolen cash, they said.
The arrest was made quickly, said Police Chief Kevin Lundsford, thanks to the work of Huntsville citizens.
“Due to the quick-thinking citizens who came to our aid, the suspect was captured quickly and the stolen money was recovered,” he said. “The Huntsville Police Department is extremely grateful for the community cooperation seen today. It makes our jobs so much easier.”
According to Huntsville police and witnesses, a white man entered the bank, located at 33 Highway 75 North, at 12:33 p.m. Friday and passed a note to the teller demanding cash and threatening to blow up the bank.
After receiving the cash, which he stuffed in a black gym bag, the man fled on foot, running south on Highway 75.
Witnesses gave chase as the man stripped off a jacket while stopped briefly at the creek near the old Tractor Supply building.
Then he ran into a health club on 11th Street and hid in a shower stall of the men’s locker room, where officers found him.
Carey Price and his daughter Lindsey, of Huntsville, were among those who chased the suspect to the health club.
Price said he and his daughter saw the man run out of the bank with the gym bag when they pulled into the parking lot.
After checking on the bank employees, Price and his daughter drove after the robber and followed him to the health club, where witnesses flagged down police.
“A few minutes later, two or three cops walked him out. I said, ‘Hooray, they got him!’ ” Price said.
Price, who said he himself had been the victim of two armed robberies, said he empathized with bank employees.
“It’s not fair. The people in there are friends of mine. They’re very nice to me,” he said.
The last bank robbery in Huntsville occurred in April 2009 at the Walker County Federal Credit Union on Normal Park.
Along with officers from the Huntsville Police Department, Pct. 4 Constable Gene Bartee, Walker County Sheriff’s deputies and Sam Houston University Police Department officers responded to the scene and assisted with the investigation.
Cody Stark contributed to this report.