PINELLAS -- Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputies said charges are pending for five men who were arrested and charged with robbing a St. Petersburg bar early Thursday, and are suspected of robbing four bars in Manatee County since late September.
Troy M. Griffin Sr., 36; Troy M. Griffin Jr., 21; Tevin J. Major, 23; Juwaan T. Roberts, 18; and Craig D. Koonce Jr., 18, were arrested early Thursday while robbing the Twin Horse Saloon, 2747 53rd Ave., St. Petersburg, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
Four suspects are from Bradenton and one is from Palmetto.
Witnesses said four masked gunmen entered the bar just after midnight and robbed patrons and employees of cash and cell phones. One suspect held a gun to a bartender's head, suspects hit patrons with their fists and at least one person was struck with a pool cue, according to the release.
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Deputies arrived as two suspects were running toward a waiting vehicle and initiated a pursuit, eventually stopping the vehicle and apprehending the driver, Griffin Sr. of Palmetto.
Four other men in the vehicle tried to run away and were caught with the help of a canine unit. A gun reported stolen in Bradenton was also found in a yard in the area, according to the report.
Dave Bristow, spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, said the men are "most definitely" suspects in the recent string of bar robberies in Bradenton. Four were reported in Manatee County since the end of September.
"There also may have been more robberies in St. Pete," Bristow said. "We feel good that these could be our guys."
Additional charges are pending. Bristow said video surveillance will be reviewed as charges are considered.
The four Manatee County robberies occurred at Scalawags on Monday; Bubba's Too on Saturday; Oasis bar Oct. 1; and Three Oaks Bar on Sept. 22.
Two robberies with similar circumstances also occurred at Bubba's Too and the Dolphin Lounge in April.
"That's something we're looking into," Bristow said. "But there's a big gap there, so we'll see."
Brent Cohenour, co-owner of the Dolphin Lounge and the Gator Lounge and Package, said he was thrilled to hear the news of the arrests.
"I had goosebumps literally from head to toe on my body. It was just an awesome feeling," the 53-year-old said Thursday afternoon. "Initially, we hear it and we don't want to believe it until we find out for sure. The more and more we hear, it's possible that it's going to be them, but we're definitely not going to let our guards down. ... It sounds promising."
On Monday, Cohenour hosted a rally at the Dolphin Lounge at 2608 Ninth St. W., Bradenton, to take a stand against the recent spate of bar robberies in Manatee County. Standing behind a microphone, Cohenour stressed safety to a crowd of patrons, fellow bar owners and bartenders. Manatee County Sheriff's Office officials also attended the rally, as well as Frank Brunner, executive director of the CrimeStoppers of Manatee County Inc.
"I let my staff know and my friends know," Cohenour said. "They were pretty excited."
A similar robbery also happened in Sarasota around 10:30 p.m. Monday, when three men held employees and patrons at gunpoint at the Jager Tavern & Grill on Tuttle Avenue and 12th Street and took cash and one cell phone, according to the Sarasota Police Department.
Griffin Sr. and Koonce were transported to the Bayfront Medical Center after their arrest. Griffin Sr. complained of a neck injury and Koonce broke his leg while running from law enforcement. Koonce, still at Bayfront at 3 p.m. Thursday, will be transported to the Pinellas County jail after treatment and held without bond.
The other four suspects are being held without bond at the Pinellas County jail.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, contributed to this report.
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter@KateIrby