A serial Florida bank robber once dubbed the “I-4 bandit” was arrested Tuesday for a new holdup just months after his release from prison, police said.
Ratcliff was released from federal custody in June after serving most of a 25-year prison sentence for committing a string of bank robberies in the late 1990s, according to federal Bureau of Prisons records.
Those earlier 19 robberies were linked by Interstate 4, which bisects central Florida, giving him the “bandit” nickname. Ratcliff was convicted in six of those crimes but federal prosecutors say he was responsible for many others.
Clearwater police got a call about 10:44 a.m. Tuesday about a robbery at the Wells Fargo branch. A witness saw the suspect get into a red Dodge Magnum and drive away.
Moments later, police said, a detective spotted the vehicle getting gas at a station and attempted a traffic stop. The vehicle sped away and was then tracked by a Pinellas County Sheriff's Department helicopter to Belleair Beach, which is just south of Clearwater.
Ratcliff abandoned the Dodge in a homeowner's driveway and tried to steal a pickup truck in the beach neighborhood, but the driver fought back. Ratcliff ran away as police arrived and was caught by a police K-9 dog, according to Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter.
Authorities said it's believed Ratcliff may have also robbed banks in November in Temple Terrace and St. Petersburg, both in the Tampa Bay area.
“Based on Ratcliff's most recent string of crimes, we are hopeful this criminal career is finished for good this time,” Slaughter said in a news release.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Ratcliff had a lawyer to represent him. The amount of money involved in the bank robbery was not disclosed and authorities did not say whether the suspect was armed. No injuries were reported.
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