Alaska fire chief helps capture Pennsylvania bank robbers

Posted: Thursday, November 30, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Mat-Su fire chief visiting his mother in Pennsylvania helped foil bank robbers who set fire to an elementary school and led police on a wild shootout.

By the time the smoke cleared in Phoenixville on Friday, dozens of shots were fired, a police officer was hit, a school suffered more than $1 million in damage, two men and a woman were arrested, and Jack Krill, who heads the Central Mat-Su Fire Department, was hailed as a hero in his hometown.

''We could not have done it without him,'' Phoenixville Police Chief John Kalavik told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Krill, whose job in Alaska largely consists of responding to fires and vehicle accidents, downplayed his role.

''I didn't really catch them,'' he said Tuesday from his mother's home. ''It was the officers that put their lives on the line. I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.''

Krill, 53, was visiting his 80-year-old mother in the suburb of 16,000 northwest of Philadelphia. He grew up there and served as a councilman and fire chief before moving to Alaska in 1983.

On Friday morning, he went to the Valley Forge Mall to have his mother's watch fixed at a jewelry store. He would have parked nearby, but the lot was full of holiday shoppers so he ended up near a local bank branch. As he headed back to his car, a man ran up to him.

''He says, 'Call 911, they're robbing the bank.' I said, 'You're kidding.' He said, 'No, there's three big guys with guns in the bank.'''

Krill called police dispatchers on his cell phone, then backed up his car so he could see a white van idling with its doors open in front of the First Union Bank. Three men came out of the bank and got in the van; two were carrying pillowcases filled with money.

He said he learned later from local law officers the robbery was well planned. Shortly before, the group threw a Molotov cocktail through a window at East Pikeland Elementary School, which was unoccupied. The fire was a ruse to distract the police.

He watched as the van drove away. ''I said to the dispatcher, 'Where are the police at? These guys are leaving.'''

He tailed the van in his rental car, keeping a discrete distance behind. After a couple of miles, the van approached an old warehouse and pulled into the parking lot.

Krill, to avoid notice, pulled ahead of the van and into the nearby driveway of a friend's home. All the while, he kept in constant contact with police dispatchers.

He saw the men get out of the van and into two waiting cars -- a tan Cadillac and a maroon Ford Taurus. When the cars went in opposite directions, he followed the one with the most people as it turned from local roads onto a major highway.

That's when he spotted a police car coming the other way, and he leaned out his window and pointed toward the Cadillac. The officer made a U-turn and, with help from two other patrol cars, forced the Cadillac to the curb.

The police pulled a woman out, but the two men inside locked the car doors and drove off, Krill said. Police exchanged several shots with the men, shooting out the rear windshield.

The chase was on, and it ended when the suspects ran into a guardrail near the Valley Forge Volunteer Fire Co., according to news reports. The two men then ran to the fire station, fled into some nearby woods and exchanged more shots with police. Both men were hit -- neither critically -- before being arrested. A police officer also was hit either by a bullet or by shrapnel that skimmed the side of his face.

Krill said he was bit embarrassed by all the attention.

He'd been congratulated by local police officers and took lots of ribbing at his high school class reunion the night after the robbery. His former classmates wanted to know how he could come all the way from Alaska and not bring his gun, he said.

And he had to call his boss and tell him he'd be delayed another week. He's been subpoenaed as a primary witness to the robbery.

''Just what I needed, to come 3,000 miles to get involved in a bank robbery and a running gun battle,'' he said. ''I was ready to come home last week.''

11/29/0 5:34 PM Inches: 4.3 REGULAR BC-AK-BRF-MurderSentenc 11-29 0178

BC-AK-BRF--Murder Sentence,175

Fairbanks killer gets 25 years

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A man was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years in prison for stabbing his cousin to death in Fairbanks in 1998.

Judge Jane Kauvar sentenced Burns Frank, 43, for a second-degree murder conviction in the death of Richard John during a drunken dispute outside a hotel room.

Frank, who had lived in Venetie and Fairbanks, claimed he had no memory of the crime but Kauvar said that did not matter.

''He's being convicted for a person's death, not for his memory of that death,'' Kauvar said. ''He's being sentenced because it was his hand that put the knife into Mr. John. And I don't think that was disputed by the (trial) evidence.''

Prosecutors requested the maximum 30-year sentence.

Frank will be eligible for parole after about 13 years.

Frank, who has complained about his public defender, said through an interpreter that he wants to appeal the conviction using a different attorney. Frank said there was no blood on his clothes and he did not remember the murder.

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