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Customer fires shots at fleeing bank robber No one hit, no charges filed in Amherst heist

A customer tried to take matters into his own hands, firing nearly a half dozen shots Friday morning at an armed robber fleeing from a Sheridan Drive bank he had just robbed, Amherst police said.

While police weren't commenting directly on the customer's actions -- possibly risking his life and others' by shooting at a fleeing armed robber -- they did say that the customer has a valid pistol permit to carry the weapon.

No charges have been filed against the customer who fired the shots.

Police say that state penal law, in some cases, allows a civilian to use deadly physical force to stop an armed robber from fleeing the scene.

"Although the law might say that shooting at an armed fleeing felon, in some cases, is justified, it might not be the wise thing to do," Amherst police Capt. Stephen J. McGonagle said. "If the suspect is fleeing, and nobody's life is in immediate danger, sometimes you have to use discretion and let the robber get away."

Detective Capt. Enzio G. Villalta said the robber entered Citizens Bank at 3180 Sheridan Drive, between Bailey Avenue and Niagara Falls Boulevard, just before 9:15 a.m. Friday.

At gunpoint, he ordered the 10 or so people in the bank -- half workers and half customers -- to raise their hands, then demanded cash from the tellers.

After taking an undisclosed amount of money, the robber left, followed by a customer who pursued him behind the bank and fired four to six shots at the man, Villalta and others said.

No one in the bank was injured, and police said they do not believe any of the customer's shots hit the robber.

Afterwards, police canvassed the area, including nearby apartments, looking for the robber. An Air National Guard airplane also flew over the neighborhood as part of the search.

The robber, last seen running down Carmen Road, was described as about 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9, possibly in his mid-20s, wearing a distinctive puffy black or gray coat, with large yellow and green horizontal swatches across the front. He also wore a hat trimmed with fur, and a blue bandanna covered much of his face. The bespectacled man also had a piece of facial tissue stuffed into his nose that had blood on it, police said.

Officers found the customer who fired the shots in the parking lot. He initially was handcuffed and taken into custody, because police though he might have been the robber, Villalta said.

But after interviewing the man at length, they did not charge him.

Anyone with any information about the crime should call Amherst detectives at 689-1333.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com and abesecker@buffnews.com

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