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Bank heist suspect nabbed on film

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 27th, 2009

'America's Most Wanted' crew

captures capture

A Cottage Grove man was arrested shortly after 12 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21 on Main Street and charged with Robbery II in connection with an incident at Umpqua Bank minutes earlier.

Rex Ivan Abeene, 57, was arrested at the 600 block of East Main Street about three minutes after police received a call from Umpqua Bank saying they had been robbed.

According to Cottage Grove Police, Abeene allegedly entered the bank and placed a note on the counter indicating that this was a robbery and he had a weapon, though he never displayed the weapon to bank personnel. Detective David Burgin, who had been parked near the bank just prior to the robbery, had returned to the police station, parked his unmarked cruiser and walked inside when he heard the call. Burgin and Officer Chris Joyce spotted Abeene walking east on Main Street, confronted the suspect and arrested him without incident.

“When we grabbed him, he gave an excited utterance of ‘It’s in my pocket!’ Burgin said. On his person, Abeene was carrying a backpack containing a large hunting knife and $1254 in cash. The suspect is currently housed in the Lane County Jail.

According to Cottage Grove Police, Abeene, who was a transient, spent time on probation in the early 90s on burglary charges but had “no huge criminal history.” Under questioning, Abeene outlined his reasons for the robbery.

“He said he did it because the homeless were not being treated properly in this town,” Burgin said. “He felt that no one was taking him seriously, that he couldn’t get the medical help he needed and he had no insurance.”

Burgin said Abeene didn’t go into detail about his past or his medical history, other than to point out a hand injury that kept him from working and that most of his family was deceased and he had few friends he could depend on. Abeene told police he had been living on private property north of Cottage Grove.

The charge of Robbery II, as per Measure 11 guidelines, carries a mandatory minimum sentence following a conviction, Burgin said.

“It’s a serious offense,” said Burgin. “And it’s a sign of the times, especially with the rash of armed robberies we’ve seen locally.”

Police said FBI agents from Eugene also responded to the call, as is customary with bank robberies.

In a bizarre coincidence, producers and cameramen from television’s America’s Most Wanted, in town on an unrelated matter, found themselves in the right place at the right time to catch Cottage Grove Police in action.

The show’s producer, Keith Greenberg, and correspondent Jon Lieberman, both of New York City, had spent the day prior to the robbery at the Cottage Grove police station filming a reenactment of the Aug. 18, 2008 capture of Michael Bresnahan, an alleged rapist wanted in Massachusetts who was located in Cottage Grove by one of the show’s viewers. The television crew, filming on Main Street, noticed police car lights and turned their cameras to document officers Burgin and Joyce taking Abeene into custody.

“We saw police lights and wanted to film them,” Greenberg said, “because they are great to fill holes in our production. And then we just happened to get a shot of your local police department in action.”

Greenberg praised the citizens of Cottage Grove for the call that eventually led to Bresnahan’s capture:

“The beauty of this case is that it shows the partnership between law enforcement, America’s Most Wanted and the citizens of this town, people who weren’t about to tolerate an accused rapist running loose in their community. People in small towns like Cottage Grove make a difference every single day; they’re the bread and butter of what we do.”

America’s Most Wanted filmed a reenactment that depicts Bresnahan’s capture near the railroad tracks close to the Row River bike trail. Greenberg said the episode will air Feb. 21.

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