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Military training kicks in, ex-Marine chases down robber

Merrill Lake never heard the bank manager call for help. He read her lips.

"She was saying, 'Stop him. Stop him,' " Lake said.

A 22-year-old from rural Alaska, Lake recently finished serving four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He had been walking near the Egan Convention Center on Wednesday, his headphones blaring "A-Team" by Ed Sheeran, when he first noticed the woman banging hysterically on the window of the Key Bank branch at 601 W. Fifth Ave.

He spotted a man with a bag walking quickly toward F Street. Lake said he knew something was wrong. What he didn't know was that the man, 61-year-old Alan Bronson Rice, had just robbed the bank with a hammer, stealing more than $1,000, according to charges filed Thursday in federal court.

Lake said his military training -- a kind of hard-wiring to act decisively, he said -- clicked on when he saw the bank manager mouth the word "robber" or "robbery."

"I just thought, he's got to be stopped," he said.

Here's how it all happened, according to an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Jason Cheney, and interviews Friday with Lake.

'I'm going to hit you with this hammer'

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Rice was the only customer in the bank when a teller offered to help him at her window. He walked up and placed his bag on the floor. Then he removed the hammer, setting it on the counter, the charges say.

What was he going to do with that, the teller asked.

"I need your money," Rice said, according to the charges. He picked up the tool. "Give me your 100s and your 50s. I'm going to hit you with this hammer. Hurry up!"

The teller handed Rice cash from her top drawer, including five $20 "bait bills," the FBI agent wrote. All told, Rice received $1,039.

"Hurry up. That's good," Rice told the teller. As he left the bank, the teller yelled to the branch manager.

It was 2:40 p.m., about five minutes after Rice first arrived at the bank, according to the charges.

The branch manager ran to the window and saw Rice walking toward F Street, the charges say.

Lake said he was walking in front of the bank when he saw the manager manipulating the blinds. She started saying something, telling Lake to stop Rice.

"I glanced over and said, 'Sir, she's calling you,' " Lake recalled.

Everything was fine, Rice assured him, Lake said. "He comes up with some excuse, saying that he would return (to the bank)." Lake looked back at the window. The bank employee continued to bang on it. He could tell she was saying something about a robbery.

"I was like, 'Oh crap.' "

Rice started jogging, he said. Lake ran after him.

'Sir, I'm a U.S. Marine'

"He disappeared around the corner, through an alley. I sprinted out in front of him," Lake said.

Lake recalled walking backward, trying to keep pace with Rice, watching his hands. One hand was on the backpack. Lake said he didn't know if the man was carrying a weapon.

Rice asked Lake to follow him to the bus station, where he would explain everything. He had simply overdrawn on his bank account, Rice told him.

"It clicked right then and there," Lake said.

" 'OK, sir you're robbing a bank,' " he recalled telling the older man. "You need to turn around and go back to the bank."

Upon hearing the word "robbery," Rice became agitated and tried to walk past Lake, Lake said.

At some point in the encounter, Rice asked Lake if he was making a citizen's arrest.

"He was like, 'Who are you?' "

"I told him right then and there, 'Sir, I'm a U.S. Marine. You need to turn around and go back to the bank,' " Lake said.

Rice didn't say anything for about 10 seconds. Then: "I need to sit down."

Lake said he followed the man to a bench next to the Egan Center where Rice dropped the bag on the ground.

Lake looked to his left and saw an Anchorage police cruiser emerging from an alley across the street. Lake waved at the police car. The officer pumped the brakes, he said.

According to the FBI, Anchorage Police Sgt. Roy LeBlanc had been a couple of blocks from the scene and already knew about the robbery. Lake flagged him down, the charges say.

Police searched Rice, finding the tool and stolen cash, according to the charges. The teller later identified him as the man who robbed the bank.

Police took Rice into custody. He'd been charged with smaller crimes before, court records show. Rice pleaded guilty to a third-degree theft charge in May and pleaded no contest in December in a misdemeanor shoplifting case.

In this case, Rice was taken to the FBI office in Anchorage. When he learned where he was, he told investigators he wanted to make a statement, according to the charges.

"He said he wanted to be released so that he could leave the country to serve his God," the charges said.

Rice was instead taken to Anchorage jail, where he faces a felony robbery charge.

Lake said he's going back to taking classes at the University of Alaska Anchorage and looking for a job. He's not sure what he wants to do, he said.

"I'm trying to take my background with the military, in whatever way possible, and utilize it with the real world," he said.

Distributed by MCT Information Services
 

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