AUDUBON - A bank robbery was thwarted Friday after dozens of officers, helped by a bit of satellite technology, tracked a stolen money bag to a SEPTA bus and arranged for an unscheduled stop.
About 20 passengers were ordered off the bus at gunpoint at the intersection of Trooper and Egypt roads at 1 p.m.
Police cars from local townships, state police and the FBI swarmed to the scene as officers tried to figure out which of the bus passengers had robbed the National Penn Bank in Royersford an hour earlier.
A man about 6 feet tall handed a bank teller a note stating that he had a gun and wanted money, according to police. An officer spotted a man matching the robber's description hopping on a SEPTA bus a short time later.
But officers were tracking down several leads at the time and didn't receive any hard evidence until bank officials told them the stolen money bag contained more than just money.
Instead of a dye pack, which explodes, staining the money with ink and rendering it worthless, the money bag had been tagged with an electronic transmitter, according to police.
The transmitter was equipped with global positioning technology, allowing the bank to track it with satellites. The information was then given to the police, who used it to target the bus and pull it over as it approached the busy intersection.
They still didn't know who the robber was, so everyone was ordered out of the bus and, temporarily, treated as a suspect.
"We saw two police cars pull into the middle of the road and one officer got out and put on a bulletproof vest," Joe Tornetta said.
Tornetta and his wife, June, stopped at Arby's for lunch. He said the excitement unfolded right in front of them.
"They had everybody on the ground," Tornetta said. "Then they lined up the men and had them stand there for a long time."
After a few minutes, to keep the inconvenience to innocent people at a minimum, the women and children from the bus were allowed to go into the Arby's to get out of the rain. At the time, officers did not realize that one of the people they released was carrying the stolen loot.
The men on the bus who matched the description of the robber were ordered to stand with their hands on their heads until their involvement with the crime could be ruled out. A witness from the bank was then driven to the scene and pointed out the robber, police said.
James Thomas Roberts, 38, of Royersford, was taken into custody and searched. Officers pulled a wad of cash out of his pockets, but there was still no sight of the money bag.
But an observant Arby's employee soon provided the crucial tip that solved the caper. The employee wasn't identified, but his supervisor said the man's suspicions were taken seriously by police.
"He saw a woman in the restaurant acting suspiciously," assistant manager Tom Mounce said. "The police then interviewed her and found out she had stashed the money in the ladies room."
Officers recovered the cash, which was inside a large black purse in the bathroom. The amount of money was not disclosed.
Alyson L. Stephen, 44, also of Royersford, was arrested as an accomplice to the robbery. Police pulled handfuls of cash from her pockets before placing her into a police car in the Arby's parking lot.
Throughout the two-hour event, police were able to divert traffic through some very busy roads. Bystanders asking questions were politely asked to stay out of the secured area. Officers from several townships assisted Royersford police from the beginning.
Although things were tense when the bus was pulled over, no one was injured. Passengers were placed on another SEPTA bus and sent on their way.
"I've never seen anything like it," Tornetta said. "The police did a great job. They got the bad guys and everything worked out. It was exciting."