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Authorities on hunt for bomb-hoax robber

MANATEE — A robber knew a heist would go off without a bang when he placed a black box on the counter of a west Bradenton bank during a robbery Friday afternoon.

The man walked into the Wachovia Bank, 7380 Manatee Ave. W., at about 2:30 p.m., wearing black sunglasses and a dark baseball cap.

He pulled what appeared to be an explosive device from a black bag and demanded money from the teller, said Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Dave Bristow at the scene.

The man then placed an undisclosed amount of cash in a bag; he later dropped it in the parking lot when he noticed he was given a dye pack, according to authorities.

Witnesses told deputies the robber began running west toward 75th Street West before getting into a gold compact car, possibly a Saturn or Nissan Sentra, and fleeing the area.

The sheriff’s office bomb squad used a robot to enter the bank and remove the black box; it was placed about 20 feet outside of the building near an ATM.

After taking X-rays and using a high velocity water spray to break the package apart, several items were found inside, including a parachute flare and speaker wires, revealing the bomb was a fake.

Using or threatening to use a bomb in the commission of a bank robbery is rare.

According to 2009 FBI statistics, bandits used or implied bombs in about 3 percent of bank robberies nationwide — 193 reported cases out of a total of 5,943 bank robberies.

FBI investigators and local authorities are searching for the man who appeared to be in his 30s, about 5 feet 9 inches tall and has dark hair and a scruffy beard.

Meanwhile, a similar-looking man with a thin build called 911 from a pay phone at the BP Station at 2925 Manatee Ave. W., to report a bomb threat to an unspecified local library.

The call was placed at 1:59 p.m., according to the Bradenton Police Department, about 30 minutes before the bank robbery.

In response, all library branches were evacuated after the man said a bomb would detonate in 35 minutes. Investigators are looking into whether the robber planned the bomb threat to divert police resources before he entered the bank.

“I don’t know if (the library bomb threat) had anything to do with this,” said Bristow, standing outside the bank. “It’s possible it was a diversion for this.”

Just before 7:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 1301 First Ave. W., the sheriff’s office bomb squad robot removed a suspicious dark bag from a trash can beside the front entrance; it contained two grapefruits.

Anyone with any information about the robbery can contact Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sam Levita at 747-3011, ext. 2555, or remain anonymous and possibly become eligible for a cash reward by calling Crime Stoppers at (866) 634-TIPS (8477).