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Crater officials help capture bank robbery suspect

Quick thinking by a Crater High School official and good communication between police agencies led to the capture of an alleged Grants Pass bank robber who had made his getaway in a cab.

A man wielding a gun and a demand note robbed the Chase Bank inside the Grants Pass Fred Meyer minutes before noon Thursday, Grants Pass police said. He fled in a taxi, paying the driver with a $100 bill stolen from the bank, police said.

At about 1 p.m., Crater High School students alerted school officials that a disoriented man was wandering on the campus athletic field, Superintendent Samantha Steele said.

"First they reported the man had a shirt on. Then there were reports he did not have a shirt on. He appeared to be disoriented, and they knew he was not supposed to be on campus," Steele said.

Central Point Student Resource Officer James Gilman said he attempted to detain the man, but the man ran away, jumped a tall, barbed-wire fence and "disappeared into a residential neighborhood," Gilman said.

"At this point what we know is that we're dealing with a trespasser who is behaving erratically," Gilman said.

David Heard, the school's athletic director and crisis team manager, heard the reports of a tattooed shirtless man and spotted him heading in the direction of Scenic Middle School, Heard said.

"I did not know he had just robbed a bank," Heard said. "My concern was that Scenic is so close, and I knew he was somewhere in between."

Heard approached the man and began asking him about his well-being and informing him about school protocol regarding strangers.

"As he got closer to me, I kept my eye on him and what he was doing," Heard said. "He disclosed he had mental health issues, and he wasn't handling them well."

Heard, in radio contact with both Scenic and Crater administrators, knew police had been contacted by his fellow staff members. Heard kept a dialogue going as he redirected the distraught man away from the campuses and toward downtown Central Point.

"My goal was to get him walking with me. I knew police would soon be there. I kept telling him that we could get him help with his mental health issues," Heard said. "He seemed nervous and paranoid and he said he really didn't want to be chased. He was pretty amped up."

Grants Pass police had notified Medford police that a bank robber may be headed in their direction. Central Point and Oregon State Police had received calls about the campus intruder and several agencies arrived on scene once they made it to Third Street, Heard said.

"I really encouraged him not to run. I didn't want anybody to get hurt," Heard said.

Jonathan Starbuck Stau, 42, of Grants Pass, was arrested by Gilman without incident. Heard returned to campus, and was surprised to later learn Stau was suspected of robbing the Grants Pass bank.

Police said Stau was carrying a large amount of cash but no weapon. Students were briefly detained in their classrooms during the initial incident and kept away from the parking area while a police canine unit searched for evidence, he said.

"The kids were great and the dog did his thing," Heard said.

Stau is lodged in the Josephine County Jail on a single count each of first-degree robbery and theft charges, police said.

Anyone with information regarding this incident is encouraged to call the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety at 541-450-6260.

— Sanne Specht