Local News

December 14, 2007

Bank robbery suspect caught

Darlene Smithson says she had been robbed before at businesses where she worked.

So when she saw what appeared to be a bank robbery in progress Thursday at about 4 p.m. as she waited in her car to use the ATM machine at the Bank of America on South Thornton Avenue, she jumped into action.

“He came running out of the back door,” Smithson recalled after giving a written statement to police. “He came running out and I thought right then something was wrong because he was running real fast. He ran across the (bank) parking lot into the back of The Daily Citizen parking lot ... He stopped at his vehicle and looked around and then got in his vehicle.”

According to Dalton police, “he” was Lonnie Whatley, from the Atlanta area. Whatley has been charged with armed robbery and kidnapping and additional charges are pending, police said. He was booked into the Whitfield County jail Thursday evening after officers from Whitfield County, Gordon County and the Georgia State Patrol chased his black Infiniti sedan on I-75 southbound, where it crashed about 4:50 p.m. near mile marker 309, approximately 24 miles from the Walnut Avenue exit where the vehicle entered the interstate.

“We were only able to keep up with him because we were driving a Dodge Charger,” said Trooper First Class E. Tommy Bonaparte of the Georgia State Patrol Post 5 in Dalton.

Bonaparte said the vehicles were traveling at 140 to 145 mph before Whatley’s car wrecked.

The police did not elaborate on the kidnapping charge.

Police said Whatley alerted some bank employees on the second floor that the bank was about to be robbed and showed a gun. When he came downstairs, the lobby doors had been locked and he left the bank.

Smithson said the man she saw “had one hand loose and one hand under his shirt, a pull over type thing.” She said she did not see a weapon but quickly noted, “I couldn’t tell what he had under his shirt.”

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