2016-09-15 / Front Page

Doors locked in Empire

Armed robbery suspect caught
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

Empire resident Christine M. Neiswonger says that Sept. 7 was an eerily quiet day for some reason.

That was before events unfolded that would put Empire in the center of a manhunt and media storm that people in the little village are just not used to.

Neiswonger lives just a few blocks from the Huntington Bank on Front Street that was robbed last week.

She learned of the armed robbery — and that the suspect was still at large — when her daughter called her to pick up her three grandchildren from their Glen Lake School bus stop.

“When she told me he was loose I locked my doors for the first time,” Neiswonger said. “Then I called my neighbors and told them to lock their doors.”

Downtown Empire was shut off to vehicles for several hours after the robbery. The village was essentially put in lockdown.

William F. Minore, 69, of Benzonia, has since been arrested and was arraigned in 86th District Court on Monday on a charge of unlawful driving away of an automobile after his alleged theft of a Kia Soul from Glen Arbor on Sept. 7.

Minore, who eluded police for about 24 hours after the vehicle theft, is also a suspect in the robbery of an unspecified amount of money from Huntington Bank.

That robbery took place at about 1:30 p.m. when a man dressed all in black walked into the front door of the bank and demanded money. The man’s face was covered and he was armed with a silver handgun, according to a police report and a video released of the subject.

After obtaining the money, the man left the bank through a back door and began walking east.

Minore is currently being held in the Leelanau County Jail on a $1 million cash/surety bond.

Leelanau County Prosecutor Joseph T. Hubbell expects to file more charges against Minore, but he’s not sure when.

“It will be after we’ve had an opportunity to review the evidence we presently have and gather additional evidence,” Hubbell said. “We’re not rushing. We’re working diligently to make a case.”

On Tuesday, Neiswonger remained nervous, saying media reports have not made it clear that the car thief and the bank robber were the same person.

“I locked my doors for two days after that, I was so freaked out,” she said. “You lose your sense of security.”

Glen Lake School leaders were quick to respond after hearing of the bank robbery.

“We brought everyone inside,” said Superintendent Sander Scott. “There was no outside recess and no outdoor PE.”

All exterior doors were secured and manned, Scott said, and students were not told about the Empire armed robbery as it would have been a distraction for learning.

“We want teaching and learning going on in classrooms,” he said.

But word still got out. Neiswonger said that when she got to the bus stop her youngest grandson, who is 10, made a mad dash to her car.

“He was very scared,” she said.

Soni Aylsworth, who owns and operates Empire Outdoors, said police were stopping every vehicle going through the intersection of M-22 and Front Street (M-72) for several hours after the bank heist.

Aylsworth said he’s lived in Empire most of his life and has never seen anything like that take place.

The stolen 2014 Kia was not reported until about 2:45 p.m. — more than an hour after the bank was robbed. It was taken from where it was parked in the 6400 block of Western Avenue and belonged to an employee of Art’s Tavern.

Surveillance video from that location showed a suspect who has been identified as Minore driving away in the vehicle. The Kia was later recovered at State and Lake streets in Glen Arbor.

Minore is also a suspect in two calls that were made to 9-1-1 operators just before the bank was robbed.

The first call was made at 1:26 p.m. and reported that there was a shooting at the Leelanau School. The second call came about four minutes later and reported that an armed robbery was taking place at Honor Bank in Lake Ann.

Both calls were later found to be false reports — apparent attempts to divert law enforcement officers away from Empire, a police report said.

Minore was picked up Thursday at a home in Interlochen. A second person at the home was arrested on a probation violation, according to media reports.

Minore also has pending charges out of Benzie County of possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and operating a drug house.

He is being represented by his court-appointed attorney, Traverse City-based William G. Burdette. On Monday during his arraignment from jail, Minore told Judge Larry Nelson that he was unemployed and has no income other than what he gets from Social Security.

Police are asking anyone who may have seen the Kia or the Dodge van in Glen Arbor or Empire in the late morning or early afternoon of Sept. 7 to contact the Sheriff’s Office at 256-8800.

Anyone who may have seen the Dodge van in Empire at an earlier date is also being asked to call.

Unlawful driving away of a vehicle is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and suspension of driving privileges.

Minore has no previous convictions, according to the Offender Tracking Information System (OTIS) maintained by the Michigan Department of Corrections.

He has a probable cause conference set for Sept. 20 and a preliminary examination set for Sept. 27.

Aylsworth said the bank robbery will not change the way he lives.

“They caught the guy,” he said. “Mr. Borkovich is doing an excellent job.”

Neiswonger said she visited the bank to give employees candy and hugs.

“Nobody should have to go through that,” Neiswonger said. “I still get teary-eyed over it. I love my town.”

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