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Text message leads to bank robbery arrest

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia State Police used a recently created text messaging system to help catch a man who allegedly robbed a Charleston bank earlier this week.

"This is something that was built in-house," said State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous. "It's been up and operating for about three months."

At about 1:45 p.m. Monday, a man allegedly robbed the Chase Bank at 1625 Washington St. E. before jumping into a Honda Civic and driving off, according to Charleston Police Department spokesman Sgt. Tony Hazelett.

Witnesses were able to get a license plate number for the car, and Charleston police transmitted a description of the car and suspect to other police agencies.

That's when West Virginia State Police Sgt. James Light activated the text messaging system, Baylous said. He said Light, the director of the statewide West Virginia Intelligence Exchange, sent a text message to other state troopers alerting them to be on the lookout for the car and driver.

"Within a matter of minutes, he was able to send a text message to 207 troopers in the region," Baylous said. He said troopers from the Logan State Police detachment got the text and spotted the suspect's car heading south on U.S. 119.

Troopers stopped the car and arrested Stephen Spires, 61, of Williamson. Bernice White, 61, of Williamson and Sandra Mullins, 39, of Williamson were also in the car and also arrested.

Charleston police were called and went to Logan to continue their investigation. Spires, White and Mullins were all charged with bank robbery. All three remained in the South Central Regional Jail on Wednesday, with bail set at $100,000 each.

Baylous said the text message system has advantages over traditional radio communications because the text messages can be saved for future reference. A suspect description over the radio is gone as soon as it's broadcast and may have to be repeated if an officer forgets the details or didn't hear the message.

Troopers who are off-duty also receive the text messages, and can assist in answering the calls, Baylous said.

The system is also versatile, he said. "[Light] can send a message to one trooper if he wants to, or he can send it to every trooper in the state."

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.

 


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