Man may reap reward for calling on bank robber

December 1, 2007 7:12:29 AM PST
When Garner police nabbed Samuel Cooper Junior, a suspected bank robber linked to several murders, they knew he would've escaped if it hadn't been for a desperate 911 call.Audio recordings obtained by Eyewitness News detail one bank customer's bold attempt to help authorities catch him shortly after he allegedly robbed a Bank of America branch on Benson Road in Garner.

"I got him," Calvin Pendergraft told an operator moments after the gunman drove away from the scene of the crime. "He's headed north on Highway 50!"

Nearly five minutes passed as Pendergraft, a truck driver, trailed the bank robber. He gave the operator Cooper's exact location until he lost sight of him. But, his timing was impeccable, leading authorities to the suspect who was later handcuffed and arrested.

Pendergraft told Eyewitness News Reporter Tamara Gibbs that he was inside the bank when the suspect pointed his gun and jumped over the counter. That's when Pendergraft said he quietly left the bank and ran to his truck to call for help. He said he had a registered gun in his vehicle and was tempted to wound the suspect before he got away.

"The only thing is legally I couldn't shoot the guy," Pendergraft said with some regret. "When he came out of the bank I should've been able to legally shoot that guy--legally on the spot!"

But, Pendergraft chose to follow the law and instead he followed the man police have identified as Samuel Cooper, Jr.

While his efforts have made headlines, Pendergraft has tried to avoid the spotlight. Eyewitness news hand delivered a personal message to him from the brother of one of Cooper's alleged murder victims, LeRoy Jernigan.

Investigators say Jernigan was gunned down inside a Raleigh restaurant where he worked more than year ago. In a written statement, his brother John called Pendergraft a hero saying, "without men like him, there would be no justice."

"I don't consider myself a hero," said Pendergraft. "I don't. It's like I told everybody else, I did what I had to do."

What Pendergraft did may turn into a ten thousand dollar reward. The Jernigan family is raising money for information that could lead to a conviction. Relatives say if Samuel Cooper is convicted in connection with LeRoy Jernigan's shooting death, Pendergraft would likely be rewarded for his 911 call.


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