Deputies play waiting game, finally arrest robbery suspect
www.tbo.com — A standoff with a suspected bank robber ended at about 8:45 p.m. Tuesday evening, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said.
Tito Morell, 34, of Sun City Center, was arrested without incident, the sheriff’s office said.
Deputies had been in the standoff with the suspect off U.S. 41 in Land O’ Lakes for about six hours.
“We played the waiting game,” said Sheriff Bob White. “Tonight we were successful in apprehending him.”
The highway, also known as Land O’ Lakes Boulevard, had been closed from Central Boulevard to State Road 52.
Morell was in a car off U.S. 41 about a half-mile south of S.R. 52.
At times, he placed a 9mm handgun to his head, said Kevin Doll, a sheriff’s office spokesman.
The saga began about 3 p.m. when deputies responded to a report of a robbery at Wachovia Bank, 14048 U.S. 19, Hudson.
Preliminary information indicated a man in a black ski mask entered the bank with a gun and left with an undisclosed amount of money, Doll said.
Morell went east on S.R. 52 in a red Chevy Cavalier, the spokesman said, and deputies chased him east of U.S. 41.
He threw money out the window as he drove along U.S. 41. He may have stopped his car off of U.S. 41 because he had car trouble, Doll said.
Once he stopped, a deputy shot his car’s tires out so he wouldn’t try to drive off, Doll said. Hostage negotiators communicated with him and had family talk to him to give himself up, Doll said.
U.S. 41 will remain closed for several hours for the sheriff’s office to collect evidence and retrieve the money Morell threw out the window, Doll said.
Morell had a court date to appear in Pasco County court, said Doll, who didn’t know the purpose for the trial or the exact date. Doll spelled his name Morell, but the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office’s previous arrest reports spell his last name Morrell.
More than 100 people gathered, parking their cars at gas stations at U.S. 41 and State Road 52.
People could not get to their homes because the 4-mile section of U.S. 41 was closed in both directions.
By 8 p.m., deputies allowed people to get to the homes using alternate routes. But some gawkers stayed behind.
Carl Darnell, of Hudson, said he was in the bank when the Morell walked in. He walked by the office where Darnell, his girlfriend and her 12-year-old daughter sat as they opened a bank account.
Morell waved his gun and told everyone to get on the floor. Darnell, his girlfriend and her daughter lay down.
Darnell then saw the robber walk fast pass the room he was in and then run out of the bank. Darnell followed Morell, who ran to the back of the bank parking lot and jumped over a hedge.
Morell was then behind the Citgo Gas Station and car wash next to the bank. He removed the black mask behind the car wash and stuffed it into a green army fatigue jacket, Darnell said.
He was husky and bald with a light complexion, Darnell said.
Morell strolled to his car in the Winn-Dixie parking lot at Hudson Avenue and U.S. 19 and stood behind his car with no rush or panic, Darnell said.
“He was probably thinking that everyone was too afraid to come after him.”
Morell’s face was beaming with satisfaction, Darnell said.
“It baffled me the way the guy was smiling so big like it was no big deal,” Darnell said.
“He had a fantastic smile on his face,” he said.
Darnell, 70, said he walked near the car and memorized the license plate. He later called 911.
From the parking lot, Morell drove off, making a right onto Hudson Avenue and an immediate right on Five A Road, Darnell said.