Fire chief foils taxicab getaway

Special
Thomas R. Washington:Man was arrested after a bank robbery was foiled by a local fire chief, police say.

AIKEN - A would-be bank robber tried to turn a taxicab into a getaway car Monday.

And it might have worked had an off-duty volunteer fire chief not gotten involved.

Aiken authorities say Thomas Washington hired a taxi driver to take him from a motel off Gordon Highway in Augusta to the Security Federal Bank in Graniteville.

As the cab waited outside, Mr. Washington walked inside at about 9:15 a.m. and demanded money from a teller.

He got what he wanted, spilling cash on the ground as he fled the bank and into the cab. But before he could make a clean escape, he was spotted by Chief Phil Napier of the Graniteville-Vaucluse-Warrenville Volunteer Fire Department, who owns a hardware and flower shop next to the bank.

A patron who witnessed the robbery had alerted Mr. Napier.

"I told them to watch the store, and I jumped in the truck," the chief said.

He and another firefighter followed the cab for several miles and radioed the Aiken County Sheriff's Office. When deputies neared the taxi, its driver, who authorities say was unaware of the bank heist, pulled over along Chalk Bed Road.

"I appreciate the help," said Sheriff Mike Hunt, who has feuded with Mr. Napier in the past.

Mr. Washington, 40, of the 100 block of Church Street in Graniteville, was charged with entering a financial institution with intent to steal and grand larceny.

He's being held at the Aiken County Detention Center.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.