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Bank heist leads to arrest of two men

By Staff
TALKING TO THE SUSPECT – Robert Zimmerman, left, an emergency medical technician with Metro Ambulance; Casey McElhenney, an investigator with the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department; and Robby McClure, a deputy with the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department, talk to Ronnie Parnell one of the suspects in a Wednesday robbery of BankPlus on Highway 19 North. Parnell, a Jackson resident, was arrested after a chase through city and county streets. Photo by Anna Wright/The Meridian Star
By Ashley McPhearson / staff writer
July 24, 2003
Two men remain in jail today after allegedly robbing a BankPlus branch on Highway 19 North and leading law officers on a high speed chase through county and city streets Wednesday.
John Patton, 33, 107 71st Place in Meridian, and Ronnie Parnell, 38, 1031 Wholesale Row in Jackson, were being held in the Lauderdale County jail on investigative hold following their late-morning arrests.
Law officers took the two men into custody after the 1993 white Jeep Cherokee they drove crashed when they lost control of the vehicle on a closed Allen Swamp Road bridge over Okatibbee Creek.
The entire incident began between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. when bank president Allen Stewart said one of the two men entered the Bank Plus branch. Stewart declined further comment.
Meridian police spokesman Darrell Theall said the man robbed the bank using a BB gun.
A Meridian resident then notified police that a man with a stocking over his head left the bank. The resident gave police a description of the vehicle the man was in and the direction it was heading.
That's when the chase began.
Chasing suspects
The suspects were headed north on Highway 19. Lauderdale County Sheriff's Deputy Paul Earley heard the call on his radio, saw the vehicle headed toward him, swung around and followed the suspects.
The suspects then led Earley and other law enforcement officers on a chase that took them over State Boulevard Extension, Pine Springs Road and, finally, Allen Swamp Road.
Officers said they reached speeds of 80 mph in an attempt to stop the suspects.
The chase came to a sudden halt when the two suspects drove onto a closed Allen Swamp Road bridge, ran into a pile of dirt and then crashed into the bridge's metal guard rail.
By about 10:30 a.m., law officers had restrained the driver, Parnell who then threw a black, nylon mesh bag with money into Okatibbee Creek. The passenger, Patton, was cuffed and sitting on the ground.
Patton had blood on his head and face, apparently because he hit the windshield of the car. He was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where he was treated and released to police custody.
Smashed window
When Parnell refused to walk, he was dragged by Lauderdale County officers to a Meridian police patrol car. Once inside, he kicked violently at the window in the back seat and quickly broke it.
Meanwhile, Meridian police Sgt. D.H. Latting recovered a handful of money he retrieved from Okatibbee Creek after he noticed it floating down stream.
Meridian Police Department Detectives Andy Havard and Burta Fitch removed three brown paper sacks of money from the Jeep Cherokee and counted stacks of $10 bills on the damaged hood of the vehicle.
Later in the day, at about 3:30 p.m., Bailey volunteer firefighter Alan Dover and Lauderdale County Sheriff's Deputy Robby McClure dove into to the creek to search for more cash. They found nothing after about an hour.
Law officers plan to continue their search for the money today.
Casey McElhenney, an investigator with the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department, said he was pleased that a resident spotted the robbery and quickly notified law officers.