A gunman wearing sunglasses and a suit robbed a credit union yesterday in one of Columbia's largest shopping centers, then eluded an off-duty police officer who chased him through the parking lot and had pinned him to the ground at gunpoint.
The robbery, in which no one was hurt, was the second at the Columbia branch of Tower Federal Credit Union in the Snowden Square Shopping Center in the past several weeks.
Last night, Howard County police were holding a man suspected of being an accomplice in the holdup after a high-speed chase along Interstate 95. The driver, whom police would not identify, broke through the toll plaza leading to the Fort McHenry Tunnel with a gold Chrysler Cirrus, police said.
The two robberies at the east Columbia credit union -- the first of which police said was committed by an armed man wearing red lipstick and a wig on the morning of Oct. 20 -- are not believed to be connected.
Sgt. Morris Carroll, a police spokesman, said the gunman in yesterday's incident entered the credit union in the 9000 block of Snowden Square Drive about 12: 30 p.m. and gave a teller a note demanding that money be placed in a brown file folder.
After the man left the building with an undetermined amount of cash, an off-duty policeman in plain clothes who was in the parking lot after banking saw an upset credit union employee who identified the man, Carroll said.
The officer, Detective Christopher Krieger, radioed for help and followed the man in his unmarked police car through the parking lot of the Best Buy store.
Krieger saw the man waving to the driver of the Chrysler -- who then noticed Krieger and started backing his car down a parking row, Carroll said. The suspect started to run around the side of the Best Buy, throwing money from the folder .
Krieger, having gotten out of his car, drew his gun and ordered the man to the ground. Because Krieger was off-duty and didn't have handcuffs, Carroll said, the suspect was able to get up and start running again. When Krieger tried to stop him, the suspect's suit jacket slipped off, and he got away.
Krieger, following police policy, did not fire at the suspect, Carroll said.
Meanwhile, police said, the driver of the Chrysler, who had not been charged as of last night, sped from the scene. Howard County police led a multi-jurisdictional chase northbound on I-95 that ended when the suspect got stuck in the median near Pulaski Highway in Baltimore, Carroll said.
Sgt. Dave Trapini of the Howard County police said several cars, including those of the state police and the Toll Authority, were involved in the chase.
Howard police, who retrieved an image of the gunman from the credit union's security cameras, described the man as black, in his late 30s or 40s, 6 feet tall and weighing 170 to 180 pounds. He was last seen wearing a white shirt, dark dress pants and a dark cap.
Canine units and other officers were unable to find him yesterday near the shopping center.
Customers, turned away from the credit union all afternoon, were greeted by a hastily posted sign that read "Emergency Closing" and directed them to the credit union's Laurel or Millersville branches.
Many were surprised that the Columbia branch had been robbed a second time. "Didn't they just have one a couple weeks ago?" lamented one woman as she returned to her car.
Another patron, Sean Alliger, 26, of Elkridge, just seemed concerned with getting his business done on his day off.
"Is the ATM available?" asked Alliger, who works for the Howard County Fire Department and banks at Columbia's Tower Federal two or three times a week. "I need cash."
Pub Date: 12/01/98