A chance encounter Wednesday between a customer in his 60s and a pistol-wielding bank robber ended with the older man critically shot in the chest and the gunman fleeing a police dragnet.
Investigators aren't sure whether the 3:30 p.m. shooting was intentional or the gun went off accidentally.
According to police, the armed man, clad in sunglasses, a black cap, black shirt and blue jeans, burst into the AmTrust branch at the southwest corner of Hillsboro Boulevard and Powerline Road. He jumped the counter and snatched money from several tellers, then fired a shot at the customer, whose name police have not released.
"He was in and out in a minute," FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela said, adding the robber's gun discharged as he clambered back over the counter after grabbing the cash.
The robber dashed out of the bank, dropped some cash, then fired several more shots, shattering the window of a tax office a few doors down.
None of the other customers or employees in the bank was injured; they all declined to comment after being interviewed by investigators.
Camila Miranda, 19, a worker at a phone store next to the bank, called the scene "intense."
"I was helping customers and then we heard a gunshot and then heard two more," she said. "Then I saw the guy running like crazy."
She and co-worker Lisa Faup, 27, immediately locked the front door of the phone shop while customers dialed 911.
"It was crazy and people were running," Faup said. "I was shaking."
Fred Thompson, a landscape worker outside the bank, was also shaken.
"I just heard pow! pow! pow! Two or three shots," he said. "And people ran. Like everybody else, I ran too."
The robber sprinted out of the shopping center and police think he got into a brown pickup truck that was last seen heading north on Powerline Road.
The victim was conscious when medics arrived to take him to North Broward Medical Center. He was listed in critical but stable condition Wednesday evening with a wound to the upper chest, officials said.
Police say that in these situations, bystanders should focus on being good witnesses and not try to be a hero or resist a robber's demands. They should take note of the robber's physical description and any vehicles used and pass the information on to investigators when they arrive.
Also important: remain calm and if someone starts shooting, stay low to the ground, police said.
The AmTrust branch in Deerfield Beach has been robbed at least twice in recent years. In May 2009 a robber handed a teller a note demanding cash within 10 seconds. Steven Glass, 55, known as the "Old Man Bandit," was later convicted of that and five other bank robberies. He was sentenced in May to 13 years in federal prison.
In November 2006 another man walked into the AmTrust and passed a teller a note demanding money. It was unclear Wednesday whether that case has been solved.
Responding to a growing number of bank robberies statewide, the Florida Bankers Association recommended its members adopt policies requiring customers to remove sunglasses, hats or sweatshirt hoods since many robbers don such attire to conceal themselves from surveillance cameras.
It's not known whether AmTrust has instituted such a policy.
Robert Nolin can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4525.