Robbery Suspect Surrenders

Bellevue man avoids SWAT, but turns himself in the next day

Bellevue and Avalon police set up on Division at the corner of Sheridan to keep an eye on the apartment where robbery suspect Lonnie Ball was believed to be staying Tuesday evening. Pic-tured above from left are Avalon officers Bob Espy and Tom Kokoski and Bellevue Sgt. Richard Czapko, who was called in from off-duty to head the operation.

Dozens of police officers from multiple jurisdictions surrounded a Division Avenue home in Bellevue for more than four hours Tuesday evening, only to find that the robbery suspect believed to be inside had gotten away -- but not for long.

Lonnie Ball, 41, is a suspect in two bank robberies that occurred Monday, one of a Citizens Bank downtown, and the other of Fidelity Bank in Bellevue. Police received a call Tuesday from Ball’s girlfriend, who lived with him in a second floor apartment on Division Avenue. According to police, the girlfriend had been alerted by friends, who saw television pictures of a bank robbery suspect, that Ball could be responsible for the robberies. Bellevue Police Sgt. Richard Czapko said that the girlfriend called police from McKees Rocks, telling them that Ball was in the apartment and that she wanted him removed.

When police were dispatched about 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, officers saw movement in the apartment’s drapes and were told by a first floor tenant that she had heard footsteps in the apartment above, Czapko said. Because Ball had claimed to be armed with a gun during the bank robberies, police launched the operation under the presumption that he was in possession of weapons. They evacuated residents of nearby homes, set up a safe perimeter, and enlisted Bellevue firefighters to close off the surrounding streets to vehicular traffic.

Bellevue and Avalon officers then settled in to wait for Allegheny County’s tactical units, including SWAT and the bomb squad.

Although county police officers began arriving in Bellevue by about 5 p.m., Czapko said, it took some time for them to assemble an operation. The county SWAT team had been responding to a situation in Lawrenceville at the time the Bellevue call came in.

It was not until after 8 p.m. that SWAT officers got into the building and determined that Ball was not in the apartment. Police finally cleared the scene at about 8:40 p.m.

Police were kept busy on Wednesday with reported sightings of Ball. An off-duty City of Pittsburgh police officer called 9-1-1 about 11:25 a.m., saying that he believed he had seen Ball walking along Ohio River Boulevard in Bellevue. He was reported to be in the area of Grant Avenue, walking toward the city. Officers searched the area, including businesses located there, but did not find the suspect.

A short time later, someone reported seeing a man matching Ball’s description on Lincoln Avenue in Bellevue. He ultimately was stopped near Home Avenue in Avalon by Avalon Police Chief Robert Howie, and it was determined that the man was not Ball.

Czapko said that police had several telephone conversations with Ball on Wednesday before he agreed to turn himself in at the Bellevue police station later that afternoon.