Front-row seat to excitement

Woman at stoplight finds herself in middle of robbery arrest

Jean Dexheimer was running errands Saturday morning when she got a front-row seat to a bank robbery that shut down part of downtown Stillwater for hours.

Dexheimer was in her car at the intersection of Myrtle and Main streets about 9:30 a.m. Saturday on her way to stops at two downtown businesses. She said the light turned green, but the cars in front of her did not move. Moments later, she learned why.

“All of a sudden, my car was surrounded by cop cars and officers were out with their guns pointed down at my car,” she said.

What Dexheimer did not know at the time was she was idling next to the pickup owned by a man arrested for trying to rob the US Bank office on Chestnut Street and threatening to set off what turned out to be a false explosive device.

The suspect, David Michael Tyler, 64, of Cheboygan, Mich. remains in the Washington County jail on a felony charge of second-degree aggravated robbery with a maximum sentence of 15 years and $30,000.. The robbery attempt and subsequent arrest forced the Stillwater Police Department and Washington County Sheriff’s Office to close a six-block radius in the downtown area from about 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday for safety and investigation reasons, said Stillwater Police Chief John Gannaway.

After the suspect was arrested, Gannaway said the St. Paul Police Department Bomb Squad was called to examine the device the suspect left at US Bank and search the man’s car and room at the Lowell Inn.

“We didn’t know what he had. Basically, we had crime scenes at once,” Gannaway said about the decision to evacuate areas around the bank, the suspect’s vehicle and the Lowell Inn. “We’re going to err on the side of safety. That’s why a good chunk of downtown was evacuated. We’re trying to protect the public.”

A probable cause statement said a man in his late 50s wearing a fake beard and sunglasses, entered the bank, placed a black briefcase on a bank employee’s desk and said the briefcase contained an explosive device. The man gave another employee a note demanding $200,000 and a backpack for the money. The man then pushed a button on his cell phone and said he activated the device and it would explode in 10 minutes.
Gannaway said a combination of good police work and luck quickly led officers to Tyler, who fled the bank on foot. The chief added that officers got a good description of the suspect from bank employees.

“An officer looked in the right direction and spotted him,” Gannaway said. “It just so happened we had three officers in the area and they arrested him as he was getting in his vehicle parked on Myrtle just west of Main.”

After Tyler was arrested, he gave a statement to investigators telling them that he owed $90,000 in child support payments “and felt he had no option but to rob a bank,” according to the probable cause statement.

Tyler told officers the bomb was a fake and that he drove from Cheboygan to Duluth, where he looked for a bank to rob, the statement said. Tyler then told investigators he went to Forest Lake, but did not find a bank “he was comfortable with,” the statement added.

Tyler then came to Stillwater last week and spent the week scouting local banks, the statement said. Tyler checked out of one local motel Friday and checked into the Lowell Inn that afternoon, the statement said.

Dexheimer said she saw Tyler running while she was at the stoplight.

“I thought he was in a hurry, but he was being chased,” she said. “His car was parked on Myrtle. He was right next to me.”

Moments after Dexheimer saw Tyler, four squad cars blocked both her and the Tyler’s vehicles on Myrtle Street as officers made the arrest. After the arrest, she said an officer told her she could leave the scene.

“I was kind of in a daze,” she said. “The policeman knocked on my window, but I couldn’t roll it down fast.”

Gannaway said evidence officers recovered at the scene of the arrest led investigators to shut down part of the downtown area for several hours so the St. Paul PD bomb squad could methodically search the three crime scenes.

“They first searched the Lowell Inn, then they did the bank and then they did the vehicle,” Gannaway said.

He added that the way the bomb squad searched the three areas resulted in the long closure of parts of the downtown area.

“It’s very time intensive and it’s very labor intensive,” he said about the bomb squad’s effort.

Gannaway said the bomb squad and other investigators finished their work by mid-afternoon Saturday and officers reopened the cordoned off downtown areas.

“Everything was completely open by 2:30 (p.m.),” he said.

Numerous businesses were affected by the lengthy downtown shutdown. Raffine’s Bridal Shop had numerous bridal dress appointments scheduled on Saturday morning.

“We had opened at 10 and were told we had to leave the building by 10:30 in the morning. A few of our appointments were in and there were a couple that understood, but there was another that did not want to leave and she was upset and crying. After we were told to leave, I had to call the other appointments that were affected as well. So far one was able to come back and we offered a discount for those who wanted to reschedule their appointments,” said Jaime Heiser, who was at the store Saturday. “At first it kind of didn’t hit me, there was a little bit of panic but my main concern was that they (the customers) were safe. We were directly across from the bank so it was scary to see the building but overall we were just making sure everyone was safe in our shop.”

Mary Mahley, owner of Art n’ Soul, was at her store Saturday and relieved that the bank employees were safe as well.

“I was one parking lot across from US Bank and it was about 20 after (nine) when I walked by the building and got to my store,” she said. “It was 9:30 when it happened, and then my employees came in and started talking about a robbery. And I thought they were talking about one that took place in Minneapolis or something. We, of course, were concerned for the people who worked there (at the bank), since we’ve gotten pretty close over the years. I was kind of shocked it’s not something that you expect to happen in Stillwater.”

Mahley knows her store and other businesses lost sales, but she could not say by how much. She added that the police had everything under control and that those people who were out and about didn’t seem nervous at all.

Agencies responding to the incident included the Oak Park Heights and Bayport Police departments, Stillwater and Bayport Fire departments, Lakeview Ambulance and the Minnesota State Patrol.

Contact Erik Sandin at [email protected] Contact Avery Cropp at [email protected]