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Serial robbery suspect in custody in Pa. after hold-up at Md. store - Newark Post: News

Serial robbery suspect in custody in Pa. after hold-up at Md. store

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Posted: Monday, March 5, 2012 9:26 am | Updated: 9:33 am, Mon Mar 5, 2012.

A  man, suspected of committing a string of robberies in Maryland and Delaware, could be back in Cecil County later this week to face charges.

Pennsylvania State Police captured 32-year-old Travis Sentell McNeal, of Elkton,  minutes after he reportedly robbed the Fair Hill Deli/Country Maid Store.

Witnesses at the scene of Friday’s crime told Maryland State Police Senior Trooper Chad Warner that a suspect, believed to be McNeal, entered the store at 356 Fair Hill Drive just before 2 p.m. The store is about seven miles west of Newark.

“He started looking around and they asked if he needed anything,” Warner was told. “He said he was looking for gum.”

But the suspect came to the register and paid for a candy bar instead, Warner said.

“He reached into the cash register drawer after it was opened,” he added.

The suspect quickly left the store, heading on foot to the intersection of Routes 213 and 273. Employees gave chase and saw the suspect get into the driver's seat of a silver Pontiac Grand Prix with Delaware tags.

Debbie Gouge, owner of Primitive N Thyme, a gift store that shares the parking lot, said an employee of the deli rushed into her shop.

“Margie came running in here and said, ‘Write this down, write this down. I've been robbed,’” Gouge said. She gave Gouge the license plate number, which Warner later discovered didn’t match the car.

As of Friday afternoon, Warner said the plate had not been reported stolen.

Pennsylvania State Police heard the description of the getaway car on police radio and intercepted the vehicle in the Kemblesville area, Warner said.

A female passenger in the car was also taken into custody. Warner said Scarlett Paige Zimmerman, 19, of Wilmington is being held along with McNeal as a fugitive in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania police also charged McNeal with traffic and criminal violations, Warner said, although he did not have specifics.

Zimmerman will be charged in Maryland with armed robbery, robbery, theft and assault as well as four counts of conspiracy. Warner said those charges stem from her alleged role in the PNC robbery.

McNeal was a wanted suspect for five burglaries in Cecil County and Delaware in February.

He is accused of robbing the PNC Bank at 101 E. Main St. about 3:50 p.m. on Feb. 28.

Warner, also one of the investigators on that case, reported that McNeal passed a note to the teller and it instructed the employee to give him cash. He told the employee that he was armed, but McNeal never displayed a weapon, according to Warner.

Investigators identified McNeal after studying video gleaned from the bank's surveillance cameras, police said. They were able to compare images of the suspect with surveillance photos from recent robberies in this area, where McNeal had already been identified as a suspect, police added.

Surveillance camera photos were also what led Delaware State Police to issue warrants for McNeal’s arrest in a PNC Bank robbery in Wilmington and a snatch-and-grab robbery at Dunkin’ Donuts in Newark, both on Feb. 25.

McNeal allegedly began his crime spree on Feb. 19, when he robbed two Elkton Royal Farm convenience stores, one at about 1:15 a.m. at the corner of East Pulaski Highway and Delancy Road, and the other at about 3:45 a.m. on Augustine Herman Highway, police said. McNeal is accused of snatching money from open cash registers at the stores while making small purchases.

Elkton Police Department detectives were able to identify McNeal after the Cecil Whig published a store surveillance photo of the suspect on the front page of Wednesday’s newspaper, as well as posting the photo on its webpage, cecildaily.com, police added.

Local court records indicate that McNeal started his alleged crime spree about two months after he was released from prison, where he had served five years and three months of a six-year term for several convictions related to a similar crime spree in September 2006.

Cecil County Circuit Court Administrative Judge V. Michael Whelan granted a defense motion to reduce his sentences on Dec. 20, court records show.

Whelan suspended the sentences, except for the time McNeal already had served, and he said he did so in accordance with an undisclosed agreement between prosecutors and defense.

At that time, McNeal was about nine months away from completing his full six years in prison. Inmates typically are paroled before serving their full prison terms, Whelan said.

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