Beaufort News

Sea Pines bank robbery suspect watched bank, parking lot before robbery, witnesses say

Douglas Haff
Douglas Haff

Barry Bennett knew something was odd about the Saturn that kept circling the parking lot at the Shops at Sea Pines Center on and off for about 10 days.

He never expected the man driving it to become a bank robbery suspect, though.

Bennett said Douglas Haff, the man arrested for the robbery of the First Federal Bank in Sea Pines on June 27, had shown up the shopping plaza's parking lot in the days leading up to the robbery. Bennett, owner of Peddling Pelican Bike Rentals, said Haff, 58, was there early in the morning, and would move from one parking space to another throughout the day.

Aside from a small office, most of the bike shop -- located at the end of the shopping plaza a short distance from First Federal -- is open space facing the bank. Since most of the employees work outside renting and checking bikes, almost all of them noticed Haff in the parking lot leading up to the robbery, Bennett's wife Marie Taylor-Bennett said.

One bike shop employee, Jason Hart, joked that Haff was casing the place for a robbery a few days before it happened.

On the day of the robbery, Bennett and another employee, Andy Groff, mentioned to a deputy that the man they'd seen driving around the plaza might be their suspect.

Nothing happened until the next day when the Saturn appeared in the parking lot at 9 a.m., then left, then reappeared at noon.

When the Saturn pulled out again, Bennett decided to follow it -- and call Sea Pines security.

"I followed him down to the Salty Dog Cafe," Bennett said. "He just seemed to be driving around like he had nowhere to go."

Bennett stayed behind the Saturn, waiting for security officers and deputies to arrive. When they did, they pulled Haff's car over along Greenwood Drive and charged him with DUI after concluding he was intoxicated.

A search of his car turned up money with serial numbers that matched those on the stolen cash, Beaufort County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh said. A search of Haff's home in Sea Pines turned up the clothes and shoes he allegedly wore during the bank robbery, McIntosh said.

The robber had worn a plastic bag over his head when he appeared in front of a bank teller, claiming he had a bomb and demanding money, according to authorities.

Little else is known about Haff. A man answering the phone at Haff's home said several factors might have been bothering him.

"It was a combination of stress, unemployment and alcoholism that caused this," he said. "It was totally unlike him to do something like this. We are hoping and praying for him."

The man declined to provide his name before hanging up.

Haff declared bankruptcy in 2005, and had been arrested twice by the Sheriff's Office for misdemeanor liquor violations between 2002 and his arrest Friday.

An employee at a convenience store near the plaza said Haff came in to buy lottery tickets regularly, and on several occasions smelled of alcohol.

Haff is currently being held for prosecution at the Beaufort County Detention Center in lieu of $26,282 bond, according to the jail log.

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