Lt. Tim Greenwood was in the basement of the still-under-construction Law Enforcement Center at the conclusion of his 12-hour shift briefing incoming officers when the call of an armed robbery was broadcast.
“That’s not one we hear every day,” the shift commander told members of the Hays Kiwanis Club late last week. “So everyone was out like a shot.”
Four hours and 32 minutes later, the events that followed in the wake of the armed robbery of the Casey’s General Store in Ellis came to an end.
That was Dec. 29.
Ultimately, Greenwood and dozens of other officers rushed toward Interstate 70 where the two armed robbery suspects — one with a shotgun and the other with a handgun — had last been seen. The two, Shannon Smith, 26, and Jessie Holland, 29, both of Alabama, remain in the Ellis County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bond facing robbery charges.
When Hays Police Chief Don Schiebler, president-elect of the Kiwanis Club, asked Greenwood to recount details of the night for the group’s members, he said he did his “due diligence to try to get out of it.” He was smiling as he said that, and Kiwanis members laughed.
He was unable to do so, but he was able to recruit Kansas Highway Patrol Lt. Dennis Dinkel to assist, and they both pressed Trooper Tod Hileman into offering technical aid in playing video and audio recordings of radio traffic that night. Hileman had 10 minutes to prepare.
The video recordings were from the KHP plane that was sent aloft, utilizing its forward-looking infrared camera capability to detect heat, which ultimately led officers to find one of the two men. The second man was found hunkered down on the floorboard of a Kansas Department of Transportation truck he apparently had attempted to hot wire.
Even though Greenwood and Dinkel were allotted just 20 minutes for the lunch-time presentation, they had an hour’s worth of information, and were frequently peppered with questions from the Kiwanians who paid close attention.
Greenwood even said he would not be offended by those who needed to leave, but only a few quietly made their way out as he recounted details, much of which has not previously been made public.
Greenwood said he started heading for Interstate 70, where the robbery suspects had last been seen.
In fact, he said, an Ellis County jail transport van had earlier reported a vehicle similar to what had been seen leaving the robbery, heading east on the interstate at approximately 95 mph.
That’s when Jim Braun and Dan Koerner, former Hays PD officers, pulled the car over and made what’s known as a “felony stop,” when officers approach with guns drawn.
“They quickly found out it was a family,” Greenwood said.
Meanwhile, he was driving on U.S. Highway 183 Alternate, in the vicinity of 27th Street when a car bearing Colorado tags passed by him, the two occupants watching closely as he passed by.
That’s not uncommon, he said, when 20-year-old males drive by.
But he decided to turn around and check the vehicle out.
Instead, it was pulling away at a high rate of speed, ultimately passing a semi on the right side of the highway.
As the car started turning onto the interstate, it hit the guardrail and its occupants jumped out just as Greenwood was trying to bring his cruiser to a halt and get out himself with his rifle.
As soon as the car hit the guardrail, “the door opens and the first suspect hits the ground running,” Greenwood said. “And he is fast.”
The driver also steps out and starts to take off.
“He sees me and he stops and runs back to the car’s passenger side and grabs something,” Greenwood said, and it’s a gun. “He stops and looks at me. I think this is going to end bad.”
Greenwood is trying to radio for help, but there’s so much radio traffic he can’t get through, finally hitting the emergency button that overrides other traffic and lets him make the call for help.
Greenwood watches as the robbery suspects run down a hill into a stand of evergreens.
But it’s pitch black, he said, flashing a black square up on the screen, and the light on his rifle only allows him to see part way into the field.
Help soon started arriving, including a citizen who offered his help and was told to stay by Greenwood’s cruiser.
Help came in droves, with officers setting up a perimeter to keep the armed suspects from reaching a housing subdivision not far away.
Officers responded from the Ellis and Russell county sheriff’s offices, Victoria Police Department, Fort Hays State University Police Department and the Kansas Highway Patrol.
“We had a good perimeter,” said Dinkel, a former HPD officer. “We kept them in a bowl.”
It didn’t take long before four officers — KHP Troopers Bill Poland, Ryan Wolting and Ian Grey, a canine handler, and HPD Cpl. Clayton Hill — “got the OK to go in and get these guys out,” Dinkel said.
He gave “hats off” to the officers who went into cold, dark and unfamiliar territory to search for two armed men.
One of the suspects, Dinkel said, was wearing long-johns and was well prepared for the cold conditions.
As Dinkel offered details, Hileman showed video from the aircraft-equipped FLIR.
He said there are two barbed wire fences behind the RANS building located along U.S. 183 Bypass.
“They don’t glow in the dark,” he said of the fence lines. “And he didn’t see them.”
“He hit both of those,” Dinkel said as the video showed a white image stopping suddenly.”
He also pointed out on the image where the suspect dropped something.
“It’s the money bag he dropped in front of him,” Dinkel said.
Greenwood quickly told the Kiwanians the suspects are “innocent until proven guilty.”
As the FLIR video continued, this time showing a series of images approaching, Dinkel said “right now the dog wants a piece of him. They never did turn the dog loose on him.”
That still left one person remaining.
“We looked in every nook and cranny,” Dinkel said. “We looked everywhere.
“We were getting ready to pull up stakes and go home.”
The problem, he said, when there are so many people involved, is a breakdown in communication, and as the officers talked before leaving the scene, they became unsure if a part of the KDOT facility had been searched.
“Trooper Grey started checking vehicles,” he said. “He opened up a truck, and there’s the guy laying on the floorboard.”
It appeared as if someone had tried to hot wire at least two vehicles.
“The vehicle where he was found was hot-wired,” Greenwood said.
“They were a lot more ambitious than what we had before and they kept going.”
In the end, 53 officers were on the scene helping to look for the two robbery suspects.
In response to questions, Greenwood said residents should turn on their lights, stay home and lock the doors.
“Don’t go out looking for the bad guy,” he said.
Dinkel and Greenwood also talked about the crime rate in Hays.
“We try to keep the riff-raff moving,” Dinkel said.
“It’s not Mayberry,” Greenwood said. “But it takes a lot of work to do that.”