The story begins with a man picking up a baseball cap along a South Florida roadway and ends in the takedown of two suspected bank robbers — moments before authorities say they were about to attempt yet another heist.
Boynton Beach senior code compliance officer Skip Lewis was driving back to his office around lunchtime on Sept. 7 when he noticed what looked like a new cap lying on a well-manicured swale on Meadows Boulevard. The dark blue cap seemed out of place, not the sort of thing that someone would throw away, he said.
"I was going to keep going and something told me to turn around so I did," said Lewis, who's worked for the city of Boynton Beach for 18 years.
He took a closer look and saw there was the large image of a bass on the front. The hat seemed like something one of his neighbors might like, he said. He picked it up and gave it to the neighbor after he got home.
The next day, Lewis came across a story on the Internet about a Sept. 6 bank robbery in Delray Beach. A robber walked into the TD Bank on the 900 block of Southeast Fifth Avenue and passed the teller a note demanding money. The man also was suspected of pulling off a similar heist on Aug. 12 in Boynton Beach.
There were photos of the robber, and something familiar on his head.
"Oh my God, that's the hat," Lewis remembered thinking.
Lewis called police, got the cap back from his neighbor and showed detectives where he found it. The detectives told him the robber was suspected of driving a silver Volkswagen Beetle.
Lewis said he decided to drive around nearby neighborhoods and sure enough, he spotted a silver Beetle in a garage. He gave the information to police, he said.
A week later, the same robber was suspected of hitting a Palm Beach Gardens bank and fleeing in a white Chevrolet van. Lewis said that when FBI agents assigned to the case mentioned the van to him, he went by the house with the Beetle again. A white van was parked there.
At some point, the FBI began surveillance of the house on Heather Cove Drive, court records show. They followed one of the residents — Christopher Eugene Nichols — as he twice drove around two banks in a suburban Delray Beach shopping plaza, court records indicate.
On Oct. 4, agents were tailing Nichols when he went back to to the plaza. Nichols met up with his roommate, Damon James Davison, who was driving the white van, according to court records. As the two men approached a bank, law enforcement closed in and arrested them.
Nichols, 33, had a loaded Glock pistol in his waistband, according to the FBI.
Davison, 33, admitted he had helped Nichols stage the Palm Beach Gardens robbery and said they were moments away from committing another heist when apprehended, according to court records. When shown a photo of the baseball cap, Davison said it belonged to Nichols, wrote FBI Special Agent Scott Wilson in an affidavit.
Both men are being held without bond and face federal charges of bank robbery and use of a firearm to commit a crime.
Court records don't say how the baseball cap ended up on the side of the road. It is now in the hands of law enforcement, and may serve as evidence if the case goes to trial.
Lewis said he's proud he helped crack the bank robbery cases. But what about the friend he had given the cap to?
"He's joking that I gave him a hot hat," Lewis said.
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