A 35-year-old Shelton man accused of stealing about $60,000 in a string of Puget Sound bank and pizza restaurant robberies was arrested Tuesday night after a months-long investigation.
Eric M. Collier was caught by the Olympia Police Department as he allegedly attempted to rob yet another bank. The 35-year-old Shelton man was booked into the Thurston County Jail on seven counts of first-degree robbery while armed with a deadly weapon and two counts of first-degree attempted robbery.
Thurston County Deputy Prosecutor Mark Thompson said the nine counts of robbery and attempted robbery cover crimes committed in Thurston County. Other charges may be filed in other counties.
The crime spree began Sept. 20 when Collier is suspected of robbing a west Olympia Taco Bell and a Bank of America, according to the Olympia Police Department. Since then, 14 similar robberies were reported at places throughout Thurston and Pierce counties, including Olympia, Lacey, Puyallup, Tacoma, Spanawayand Kent.
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Thompson said that in all his years as a deputy prosecutor, he’s never seen a defendant face so many robbery charges. At a Thurston County Superior Court hearing Wednesday, he asked Judge Anne Hirsch to set bail at $2 million.
“Just the sheer number, I’ve never seen a defendant come into the court with this many robberies,” Thompson said.
Hirsch agreed that Collier posed a significant threat to the safety of the community and set bail at $1 million. If Collier posts bail, he’ll need to appear in court to establish other conditions of release.
Olympia officers found two guns when they arrested Collier: One was loaded and on his person, and the other was found in his car, Thompson said. The gun found in the car was reported stolen in the 1980s.
“That suggests that he has access to firearms that are not legally tracked,” Thompson said.
The Olympia Police Department gave the following account of the events leading to Collier’s arrest:
During all but one of the robberies, the suspect displayed a handgun, wore a mask and had a hooded sweatshirt pulled over his head.
In a November robbery, the suspect fired his gun during a struggle with a Pizza Time employee. No one was injured.
Detectives and analysts from multiple agencies — Olympia Police Department, Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, Puyallup Police Department, Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, Kent Police Department and the FBI — began investigating the robberies together in October, piecing together information from the various robberies.
An Olympia officer noticed a suspicious dark sedan driving slowly through a west Olympia bank parking lot. The officer lost sight of the vehicle in heavy traffic. About 30 minutes later, Columbia Bank in Lacey was robbed at gunpoint.
Officers learned that the license plate of the suspicious vehicle didn’t match the car. The sedan was seen again at local banks.
On Tuesday, detectives followed the sedan to a Shelton home. The driver parked the car and switched the car’s license plate, then drove back toward Olympia. Detectives followed the sedan as it drove around local banks.
The suspect parked the car at Olympia Federal Savings Bank in west Olympia and climbed out of the car, wearing clothes similar to those worn in prior robberies.
Police arrested the suspect, identified as Collier, and he was booked into the Thurston County Jail.
The Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office will have until Friday to file charges against Collier. He is scheduled for arraignment Feb. 2 at 10 a.m.