A bank robbery suspect in Columbia, S.C., learned Monday that hailing a cab to a crime scene is a good way to put you on the road to jail.
His getaway plan fell apart because of a fast-thinking cab driver and tenacious bank customers.
Police said Maurice Eugene Fields Jr., 50, summoned a Checker Yellow taxi just before 2 p.m. at the city's bus transfer station at Sumter and Lauren streets.
He told veteran cabbie Michael Airs to take him to nearby S.C. Community Bank at 1545 Sumter St.
Fares from the transfer station and cab rides to banks are common, Checker Yellow general manager Peyton Greene said.
The passenger, wearing a white golf shirt and white ball cap, asked Airs to wait for him.
The man went inside and asked a teller how much money was required to open an account, said detective Sgt. Dana Oree of the Columbia Police Department.
The clerk told him $25, so he stood in line. When he stepped to the counter, he handed her a handwritten note on plain, white paper, demanding money, Oree said.
The intruder didn't mention a gun, nor did he seem to be carrying one, the detective said. It's what the FBI calls "a note job."
The teller handed him cash, and he "walked out of the bank with a fistful of money," Oree said. Police would not say how much.
The man calmly walked back to the waiting taxi. But two male customers followed him and alerted the cabbie.
"Hey, that man just robbed the bank. Don't take him anywhere," they told Airs, according to Greene, who spoke with the cabbie twice afterward.
Airs, 52 and a Checker Yellow cabbie since 1990, took the keys from the ignition and got out, Greene and police said.
With the getaway plan foiled, the suspect slid across the back seat, got out on the driver's side and briskly walked away.
One customer returned to the bank at 2:04 p.m. to make a cell phone call to police, who had received a bank alarm at 2:03 p.m.
The other shadowed the suspect.
Together they formed a makeshift police wireless service: The man following the suspect kept the other bank customer apprised of their location. That customer relayed the information to police by cell phone.
The customer's semi-hot pursuit (a fast walk, not a sprint) prompted the suspect to stop in his tracks, Oree said. He turned around and handed the cash back.
"Just let me go," Oree said he told the customer.
Three officers in two city police cruisers closed in at 2:10 on the 1700 block of Main in the shadow of City Hall. More showed up within moments.
The suspect gave up without resisting, Oree said.
Fields is charged with bank robbery, and the case is being turned over to the FBI, the detective said.
Greene, Checker Yellow's manager, commended his driver for quick thinking and stopping a getaway.
Oree said police appreciate the help but don't recommend such close public involvement in crime busting.
It's more advisable to be observant, he said, and call police with what you see.
"In this specific incident, everything worked out, and nobody got hurt," Oree said.
Efforts to reach Airs were unsuccessful.
And though he didn't collect his fare, Greene said he will be rewarded with perhaps a nicer cab.