Originally created 05/19/00

Across the area: Police hunt man in bank robbery

Columbia County police searched Thursday for a man who robbed the First Union Bank branch on Washington Road in Martinez.

The man, who wore a light-colored shirt, baseball hat, light-blue fanny pack and sunglasses, entered the bank at about 1 p.m., told a cashier he had a weapon and demanded money, said Capt. Steve Morris of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.

The robber ran from the bank with the cash, Capt. Morris said. The robber, described as slim, about 5 feet 6 inches tall and in his late 30s to early 40s, was photographed by a surveillance camera.

The robbery was the second at the bank in less than two months. On April 7, police arrested three men, two of whom were believed to be involved in two other area robberies. Police say they believe Thursday's incident was not related.


Man arrested in home invasion

The mother and daughter victims in a south Augusta home invasion spotted a man they recognized walking along Watkins Street on Thursday, leading to the arrest of the second of four suspects in the case, according to the Richmond County Sheriff's Department.

At the time of Tuesday's incident, they recognized the gunman from their old neighborhood but couldn't recall his name, so they set out looking for him, Lt. Jack Francisco said. Deputies picked up Joshua D. Harris, 24, of Heard Avenue, just before 5 p.m. He is being held in the Richmond County jail without bond, charged with kidnapping, armed robbery, burglary, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and giving a false name to police.

Investigators said the 15-year-old daughter answered the door of her Richmond Hill Road apartment at about 1 p.m. Tuesday. Four men burst in - one wielding a gun - bound her and her mother with duct tape, ransacked the apartment and stole cash, jewelry and video equipment.

Britto Vencenta Garcia, 21, was arrested hours later. He is charged with kidnapping, armed robbery and burglary.


Board will take over hotel

The Augusta Aviation Commission voted unanimously Thursday morning to take over operations of the airport hotel.

The move comes after the hotel's management company, Cornerstone, reportedly had problems paying its electric bills and its employees.

City Attorney Jim Wall met with the commission in closed session for about 35 minutes to discuss the matter and possible legal problems with the takeover. The hotel employs about 32 people, Mr. Wall said.

No decision has been made on whether the airport, which owns the land the hotel is built on, will sell or maintain management of the business.


Job applicant wanted in theft

A business in La Petite shopping center on Washington Road was robbed Thursday by a man who claimed he was there to get a job.

The robbery at Aiken-Augusta Security took place at about 4:30 p.m., shortly after the man walked in and asked for a job application, said Capt. Steve Morris of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.

While the man filled out the application, a phone rang and a clerk walked away to answer it. At that point, the applicant walked into a back office and grabbed an undisclosed amount of money from the store's safe, Capt. Morris said.

Police were still searching for him Thursday afternoon.

Anyone with information about the robbery is asked to call the sheriff's office at 541-1043.


Police charge two men with arson

A volunteer firefighter and another man have been charged with intentionally burning a building on the historic Bettis Academy campus.

John Babb, 19, and Daniel Ferdelman, 21, were arrested Wednesday afternoon, hours after they doused the walls with gas and set them ablaze.

The two North Augusta men called 911 shortly before 1 a.m. to report the fire. Minutes later, they drove to County Line Fire Department, and Mr. Babb returned to the scene with one of the station's engines.

The structure was used as a community gathering place. When Bettis Academy and Junior College closed in 1952, the state ran a high school and trade school there. The burned building was a dormitory for teachers.

Mr. Babb and Mr. Ferdelman are being held at the Aiken County Detention Center on arson charges.


Service warns of collection scam

A spokesman for Aiken County government is asking residents to be aware of people who claim they are collecting money for emergency medical services.

Suspicious residents should call 911. Apparently, several have been asked to give money to purchase extra equipment for the county's Emergency Medical Service.

"Aiken County EMS is not involved in any type of fund-raising activities," spokeswoman Lynn Clarke said.

The Aiken and Belvedere-North Augusta rescue squads are soliciting money but not for free transports or equipment, she said. Officials who represent those organizations will present letters of endorsement and identification to ensure legitimacy.

Residents can call Aiken Rescue at (803) 649-9501 or Belvedere-North Augusta Rescue at (803) 279-4512.


Ballot equipment will be tested

The public test of the ballot tabulation equipment for the South Carolina House District 83 special election will be at 5:30 p.m. today in the Voter Registration and Elections office at 736 Richland Ave.

The office will be open Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Registered voters can cast absentee ballots for the special election and the June primary at that time. For more information, call 642-2028.

The Aiken County Voter Registration and Election Commission will hold its monthly meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Aiken County Council Building.


Petition deadline moves up

A new state law has moved up the deadline for petition candidates for public office to turn in their petitions from Aug. 1 to July 15, according to Stuart Bedenbaugh, executive director of the Aiken County Voter Registration and Elections office.

Because July 15 falls on a Saturday, this year's deadline is July 17. Candidates seeking nomination by petition for partisan offices must turn in their petitions by noon Monday. Also, those seeking nomination by petition for any multicounty office must turn in petitions to the State Election Commission in Columbia by noon Monday.

The new law also affects petition candidates for the Aiken County school board, Soil and Water Commission, Warrenville Water and Sewer District, Langley Water and Sewer District, Bath Water and Sewer District, Clearwater Water and Sewer District and Belvedere Fire Commission. For more information, call 642-2028.


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