By Glen Paddie, Fort Campbell Courier staffAugust 19, 2011
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., (Aug. 19, 2011)--Something as simple as a Soldier cashing a check at a certain bank on a particular day at just the right time helped stop serial robbers causing some Clarksville businesses a lot of grief.
Private 1st Class Preston Clayton, Golf Company, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, decided that he and his buddy, Spc. Justin Armstrong, Golf Company, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, wanted to meet their wives for lunch Aug. 9.
So, the two Soldiers agreed to meet their better halves at U.S. Bank on Fort Campbell Boulevard in order for Clayton to cash a check before their meal.
"I was at the third or fourth teller down, and this guy walked in wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses, a thick coat and a backpack," said the soft-spoken Clayton. "At first, I didn't think too much of it, but did think it looked a bit funny with it being summertime."
Clayton said he was waiting on the teller to return his military ID from his transaction when he looked around and the man was gone within just a few seconds of being in the bank.
"After he walked out, the teller ran around telling everyone she'd just been robbed," Clayton said.
"It took a second for it to click, but I ran out the door after him."
Clayton said his wife later informed him the bank robber went left and he went right around the building, but both men ended up near a privacy fence behind the bank.
"As I was rounding the building, I saw him jumping the fence, so I ran toward him and started to jump the fence right behind him," he added.
"I was close enough to him to hear him hit the ground after he jumped the fence."
Clayton said as soon as he got to the top of the fence, the robber had already jumped into a waiting taxi van.
"They peeled off when they saw me coming," Clayton said. "So, I went back in the bank, and the police had gotten there by that time."
Clayton said he had to give a written sworn statement at the bank, and while he was filling it out, police called in that they pulled over a taxi van at Firestone on Fort Campbell Boulevard near Burch Road.
"Detective Jim Knoll then took me down to the Clarksville Police Department to interview me," Clayton added. "Actually, they took my wife, too, because she saw him coming out of the bank, but they took us in separate vehicles."
"They asked us if we could identify the guy, but both of us couldn't say for sure it was him as we caught only part of his face," he said. "By the time we left CPD, though, Mr. Knoll told us both that the guy had confessed to not only that bank robbery, but the Wal-Mart robberies that have taken place in the area, too."
Arrested for the robberies were, Ted Russell Morse, Alpharetta, Ga., Terry Louis Morse, Oak Grove, Ky., and Carson Lynn Poore, Clarksville, Tenn.
Knoll added that Clayton's actions were brave and selfless.
"His actions resulted in the arrest of three men linked to our Wal-Mart pharmacy robbery," said Knoll. "Oak Grove wanted them for their Wal-Mart robbery, too."
Knoll said these guys showed no signs of lying low and were committing more crimes with very little time in between each one.
"It's a rule of thumb that the more robberies a person or group commits, the higher the probability of the escalation of violence," added Knoll. "Clayton was a key element in keeping these men from whatever their future intentions were before we had to find out whether the robbers were willing to seriously injure or possibly kill someone."
Clayton said when he was returned to the bank, the teller told him the robber told her he had a bomb in his bag.
"Funny thing is, my buddy was sitting in his car with his wife by this time and he saw me busting out of the building, he didn't know what was going on," he laughed. "My wife even said she thought I was running after someone I knew."
Clayton said he found himself running after the perpetrator without considering the consequences.
"Consequences" is something Knoll wants local citizens to consider, however.
"Clayton was uninjured and the bad guys were caught, but it could have turned out tragically, too," said Knoll. "If the suspect had a gun or truly had a bomb and wasn't concerned about his own life, the result could have been much different."
Knoll said he just wants to present both sides of trying to stop a crime.
"Too many situations have been documented where a Good Samaritan, a store clerk or someone trying to do the right thing, have been severely injured," added Knoll. "We can never in good conscience recommend that someone put themselves in harm's way over material items."
Even so, Knoll and the Clarksville Police Department are proud of Clayton.
"He certainly helped the citizens breathe a little easier knowing this group is behind bars," he said. "We see Clayton's actions as another shining example of how the military willingly and without regard for their personal safety step up to protect us around the world and in our neighborhoods."
Clayton was undaunted by the risk he took chasing the robber.
"We're told that we're Soldiers all the time, in uniform or out, on-post or off-post," he said. "Well, I was in uniform and I just reacted."
Clayton said he agreed with Knoll that if someone ever finds themselves in that situation and feels like it's not safe, he wouldn't advise going after them.
"In my case, adrenaline was part of it, but it was more about me doing the right thing," he added.