Robberies jolt small Pa. town

January 07, 1997


Staff Writer, Waynesboro

MONT ALTO, Pa. - Three bank robberies and a break-in since November have jolted this small town out of its complacency about crime.

"We definitely need more full-time security," said Arturo Fuentes, the owner of Frank's Pizza, next door to the bank. Fuentes said Police Chief Charles Mills chased off would-be thieves a few weeks ago. His store has already been robbed twice in the last three years.

"A small town like this, it's unbelievable what's happening," he said. "One customer I know is frightened to leave the kids playing in her yard because she doesn't know if something wrong is going to happen," he said.


Pennsylvania State Police have charged two men in the three robberies of the F&M Trust branch on Pa. 233 next to the town square. Jason T. Brown, 24, of Park Circle, Chambersburg, was arrested Thursday for the bank robbery that afternoon.

Kris E. Jones, 25, of Black Gap Road, Fayetteville, was charged Thursday with criminal conspiracy in connection with the robberies on Nov. 19 and Dec. 19.

Mayor Frank Gilreath, who just took the public post, said he believes recent publicity regarding disputes between the police chief and some residents may have encouraged the robberies.

"That is what got me involved originally," he said. Gilreath, a retired Maryland state trooper with 25 years of law enforcement experience, said he wanted to overhaul the rules and procedures governing the police department, and make sure that accountability was maintained.

Gilreath said the chief and the town need to work together.

"The deterrent is there if you have a police force, especially if you have a community that trusts them and helps them out."

Gilreath agreed that more protection may be needed.

"We have to evaluate if it's going to take more police," he said. "We would have to justify that."

"People are getting a little leery about going to the bank," said Ezaura Hickok, who works at the borough library. "I prefer to go to the window now - you can make a fast getaway there," she said.

One library worker refuses to work there at night now, she said. "I have lived here for 25 years. You just don't expect that," Hickok said. "I guess that's the problem, you get too confident."

Mills, who recently was suspended for a week without pay by the Mont Alto Council after a complaint that he failed to act to quiet a barking dog, is also being probed by the council's attorney for working more than the authorized 32 hours on at least 13 occasions.

Mills said he had arrested the owner of the dog five times, but no one would testify in the case.

Other borough residents have criticized Mills' treatment of them. A petition critical of Mills was signed by 62 people and given to the council.

Mills says he's been unfairly picked on, mostly by people he's arrested.

Mills said he would like to work more hours for the town. He noted that all three robberies occurred when he was at his other job in Greencastle.

Despite the robberies, Mills said that Mont Alto was still safe. "An old lady can walk around at three in the morning and nobody will bother her," Mills said. "It's a nice town."

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