|Bond set at $200,000 in Cooper bank robbery case|
|Bruce Alsobrook | News-Telegram Editor|
Aug. 31, 2006 -- A man listing a Commerce address accused of attempting to rob a bank in Cooper Wednesday morning remained in jail today in lieu of more than $200,000 in bonds.
John Thomas Phipps, 42, was arraigned by Delta County Justice of the Peace Larry Vandiver on three counts Wednesday, including a second-degree felony charge of robbery. Vandiver set bond at $200,000 on that charge.
Phipps, who lists a Commerce address but has lived in Cooper, was also arraigned on charges of evading arrest with a motor vehicle, a state jail felony, and driving while intoxicated, a third-degree felony because it is a "third or more" offense. Vandiver set bond on those charges at $20,000 and $15,000, respectively.
Phipps was apprehended Wednesday morning after leading Delta County officers on a high-speed pursuit following a report of an attempted bank robbery in downtown Cooper.
"We were very fortunate that someone did not get hurt," Delta County Sheriff Mark Bassham said today. "I'm thankful it ended up the way it did."
Bassham said the incident began about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday when a white male dressed in shorts and tennis shoes entered First National Bank of Cooper, walked up to a teller and announced he was there to rob the bank.
"He made a statement to the effect of, 'I don't care which one of you gives me the money,'" the sheriff said.
Bassham said the suspect then walked over to the next teller, who had gathered up the money in her booth and held it out to the suspect.
At that point, Bassham was told, the suspect looked up and saw a security camera.
"He just holds his hands up and makes a motion like, 'Never mind,' and turns and walks out the door," Bassham said.
A bank employee followed the suspect outside and got a description of the car and the direction it went when leaving the square. The sheriff's office was then contacted, as well as other banks in the county. The doors to those banks were then locked, a standard procedure when a bank robbery or attempt occurs.
While Bassham and his officers on duty -- Chief Deputy Sheriff Ron Foster and deputies G.R. Wood and Johnny Williams -- left to search for the suspect, someone called the sheriff to say the suspect was Phipps.
Meanwhile, an FBI agent in Sherman, who had been contacted by First National Bank President Tim Gregory, called Bassham. At about the same time, the sheriff's office received a call that the suspect had shown up at Enloe State Bank, where the doors were locked. A bank employee motioned for the suspect to go to the drive-through section of the bank, but instead he got back into his car and headed south on FM 198 toward State Highway 24.
Officers spotted the car and the pursuit began. At the same time, Bassham said, law enforcement agencies in surrounding counties were notified of the situation.
"Then I get a call from the suspect's mother," Bassham said. "She was upset. She had seen him that morning, and knew he had problems, and told me he had a rifle with him."
Soon after, Delta and Hopkins County sheriff's officers boxed in Phipps' car at the intersections of State Highways 19 and 24. Bassham said Phipps was "very intoxicated" and refused to get out of his car, and officers had to physically remove him.
Inside the car, deputies found a .22-cal. rifle with a bullet jammed in it.
"We don't know when the bullet had jammed," Bassham said. "It might have happened earlier in the morning. We just don't know."
After Phipps was arrested and taken to the Delta County jail, authorities had to call in state troopers from another county to perform an Intoxilyzer test to determine his level of intoxication. That trooper did not have a key to access the cabinet, so a second trooper was summoned.
"[Phipps] had already been here for some time and already eaten dinner, but I felt he was so intoxicated he would still fail the test," Bassham said. "He still blew in the high 0.20s."
The legal standard for intoxication is 0.08; a level of 0.40 is usually fatal.
Bassham had high praise for those who helped in the apprehension of Phipps.
"The bank employees did an outstanding job," he said. "The way they conducted themselves and the way they responded and got the description of the vehicle was tremendous. And the support we got from the surrounding counties that immediately came to help us was fantastic."
Bassham also added that he was not unfamiliar with Phipps, and said Phipps had tried to talk to him Tuesday while Bassham was in a meeting. Dispatchers told Phipps, who called three times in a span of less than 10 minutes, to try back in about half an hour, but he didn't call again, and couldn't be reached.
Bassham wonders if things might have turned out differently had they talked.
"A sheriff's not just a peace officer, he's also a counselor, especially in a small town," Bassham said. "Maybe if I'd have had a chance to talk to him ... "