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Bank robber tripped up by telltale cell phone

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Right before trial in April, Christopher Mark Lyons thought he might beat the rap.

The government said he was the "Main Street Robber," the serial bandit who held up eight banks in small towns in Pennsylvania and Ohio last year.

But it wasn't until Assistant U.S. Attorney William Snyder introduced cell phone records that placed Lyons near the banks on the days they were robbed that he realized he couldn't win.

So he admitted his crimes, and last week Chief U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose sent him to prison for seven years and three months.

She also ordered him to pay full restitution to the banks he robbed, which comes to about $18,000.

Lyons, 22, knew something about banks because he was once a teller and had security training. He didn't leave fingerprints, didn't draw attention to himself by waving a gun around and ditched his clothes after each heist.

But he didn't count on the FBI using his cell phone against him.

In the case of holdups in Butler and Hermitage, agents examined cell tower records to reconstruct his path as he drove down Interstate 79 back to his apartment on Saw Mill Run Boulevard. He didn't know it, but the phone acted like a homing signal everywhere he went.

A grand jury indicted him last year on charges of robbing Citizens National Bank in Zelienople on March 14; National City bank in Hermitage on May 24; Community Bank in Claysville on July 8; PNC Bank in Butler on July 24; and PNC Bank in the Waterworks Mall near Aspinwall on July 30.

He also held up three other banks in Ohio. He wasn't charged for those, but he did accept responsibility for them when he pleaded guilty.

He committed the first robbery just a few days after landing a new job at a Buick dealership, then apparently decided bank robbery was easier and never returned to work. In all, he stole about $18,000 from the banks and used most of it to pay his rent, although he also bought some jewelry and treated his buddies to dinner.

Lyons was actually arrested once during the robbery spree, but no one knew who he was at that point.

On June 12, 2002, a Brentwood police officer pulled him over for running a red light on Route 51 and found a stolen gun and a box of ammunition in the car.

While handcuffed in the back of a patrol car, Lyons pulled a razor blade from his wallet and cut his wrists. He was taken to a hospital and later made bond on the illegal gun charge.

Then he went back to robbing banks.

Torsten Ove can be reached at tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.

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