When the U.S. Bank branch at Mullan and Sprague was robbed and bombed in April, customer Dale McElliott was close enough to hear the blast.
Friday, he pulled into the bank’s drive-up lane just in time for a frontrow sequel.
“There it goes again,” McElliott remembers thinking.
The 42-year-old maintenance worker makes daily deposits at the bank. Friday, he was second in line for the drive-up window. The woman in front of him suddenly turned around and flashed him a distressed look. Then she drove off. So McElliott drove up for service.
Instead, he saw a bank full of raised hands. Then he went into action.
“I was in the military,” McElliott said. “I’m trained for this.”
He backed up his Jeep, getting clear of the window. McElliott wanted to keep his shiny vehicle safe; he’s just five months away from paying it off.
He crawled out, dropped to hands and knees, and went from vehicle to vehicle asking drivers if they had a cellular telephone.
A man parked in the service lane parallel to him did, and called 911.
Then McElliott snaked along the side of the building where the drivethrough window is, and turned the corner.
Hidden by bushes and a grassy slope, he watched. He saw a new, white GMC van with a gray spare wheel cover parked in the handicapped space.
“They couldn’t see me,” McElliott said, dressed in a gray jumpsuit as he pointed at the green slope. “It’s a blind spot, see?”
He saw a man leave the building, “cool as a cucumber,” and enter the van through its sliding door.
The man brandished a large shotgun and wore a blue baseball hat, black ski mask and camouflage pants. McElliott didn’t see the other suspects.
The van pulled out at normal speed and headed east down First Avenue, McElliott said.
He wasn’t really afraid. “(I was) more tense than anything else.”
He isn’t a stranger to robberies or explosives. At a previous convenience store job, he was robbed twice. During April’s U.S. Bank robbery, he heard the explosion, pulled up, then headed to another branch once he saw the blown-out windows.
While in the Navy from 1972 to 1987, he spent four years in an Explosives Ordnance Disposal unit.
That’s why he wasn’t rattled.
“It’s sort of like second nature, even after you’re out of the military.”
He said the robber he saw looked like a pro, from the no-worries way he left the bank to the 45-degree downward angle he carried his shotgun.
“It was a military-style execution,” McElliott said.
It’s the last one he hopes to see.
“I don’t go looking for these things, believe you me.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo