Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 20, 2012

Newsmakers: Four robberies shook GT

BY ART BUKOWSKI
abukowski@record-eagle.com

— Editor's note: Part of a series of stories about people, places and events that made news in the Grand Traverse region in 2012.

TRAVERSE CITY — A robber who barged into the Northwestern Bank branch in Kingsley created bad memories that aren't easy to shake.

Eric Michael Martin, 51, went into the bank early May 3 and handed a teller a note demanding money. He told bank employees he put a bomb in the parking lot, then drove off. He's now in prison and will serve at least two years for the crime.

"I know it's been traumatic for the whole team down there," Northwestern spokesman Doug Zernow said. "Something like that is 180 degrees from what's normally going on. It was very upsetting."

Robbery isn't a particularly common crime in the area. But Grand Traverse County was rocked by four in less than 40 days in March and April, all at busy businesses during regular hours.

Two — the April 5 robbery of Gander Mountain in Garfield Township and the Kingsley incident — were solved. Authorities continue to investigate the April 24 and May 11 robberies of separate Walgreens pharmacies. Investigators don't believe any of the incidents were related.

Spikes in a particular crime aren't entirely rare, authorities said, especially if the same people are involved. The situation is more puzzling when the incidents seemingly aren't connected.

"We see that all the time, and sometimes we're just not able to (explain it), especially when it's done by different people," Grand Traverse sheriff's Capt. Dave Meachum said.

Meachum is glad to see the trend didn't carry past May. Robbery is a violent crime with major potential for death or injury, but it's also tremendously time consuming. Dozens of officers converged for each of the robberies, including several who blocked off much of Kingsley as they looked for a bomb.

"I don't think people know how many officers and how many resources those things take up," Meachum said. "We had no less than 55 to 60 people on that."

Investigators are still working on the Walgreens robberies. In the April incident, a man went into the store on U.S. 31 near Meijer, shoved a clerk and told her to open the cash register. The clerk opened the register, and the suspect grabbed money and ran off behind the building. The man didn't display or mention a weapon.

In the May incident, a man with a hooded sweatshirt drove a car through the pharmacy drive-through at the Walgreens on South Airport and Garfield roads. He told an employee he planted a bomb in the building and demanded Ritalin and morphine. The employee complied and the man drove off. Police found no evidence of a bomb, and later recovered the car.

Meachum said investigators are awaiting forensic tests of evidence collected from both robberies.

Jeffrey James Hinson was charged with a felony count of armed robbery in the Gander Mountain incident. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Authorities said Hinson went to the store and displayed what a Gander cashier believed to be the butt of a handgun in his waistband, though he later told police it was an ice scraper. He left with a cash register drawer.