State police said they were keeping an eye on East Lyme banks Tuesday morning — the day of the week on which other bank robberies have occurred in the area — when they came across a black BMW that matched witnesses' descriptions.
They arrested the suspected wheelman, Kevin Smith, 23, in the parking lot of the Yummy Yummy pizza restaurant, but the man suspected of actually robbing the banks fled the area in a green Jeep Cherokee.
Sometime later, after a search involving several law enforcement agencies and a helicopter and the lockdown of at least one local bank and four schools, police apprehended Kenneth Buckingham, 44, as he was driving south on Route 9 in Old Saybrook.
Both men are from Old Lyme.
Though detectives have not divulged full details of the case, they believe Buckingham and Smith have robbed as many as four banks in the southeastern Connecticut, Colchester and Westbrook areas and were preparing to rob an East Lyme bank when their plan was foiled Tuesday morning.
Both men were arraigned Wednesday in New London Superior Court on charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery and criminal attempt to commit first-degree robbery.
Smith was the first to appear in court. Wearing jeans, a long-sleeve shirt and a crown of uneven dreadlocks, he remained mostly silent. Judge Kevin P. McMahon asked him if he could post his $500,000 bond, to which Smith simply replied, “No.”
McMahon changed the bond to a $90,000 cash bond.
Bail Commissioner Michael Amanti said Smith faces pending criminal charges, including issuing a bad check, second-degree larceny and first-degree failure to appear in court.
Buckingham, who also was charged with criminal use of a firearm and was served with a warrant charging him with stealing checks from a neighbor in Old Lyme, appeared in the afternoon. A man of medium build and light hair, he stood before the judge in blue jeans and a T-shirt as the bail commissioner outlined his “lengthy” criminal record.
Buckingham, who is divorced with one child, lives on West End Drive with his father, who is ill, and is taking over the family business, Coastal Baking Services, in South Lyme. He is on probation for a larceny case in New Britain, has a previous drug conviction and has a larceny case pending in Middlesex Superior Court.
The pending case may be “a silver lining” for Buckingham, according to Public Defender Sean Kelly, who stepped in for the arraignment because Buckingham had not yet hired a private attorney. Kelly said Buckingham appeared in court Tuesday in Middletown and was on his way back to Old Lyme when he was arrested on Route 9. Buckingham said he was driving south when a police officer called him on his cell phone and was en route to turn himself in when he was arrested near the junction of Route 9 south and Interstate 95.
Prosecutor Lonnie Braxton had asked for a high bond, saying Buckingham has proven he is dangerous and has pending cases. McMahon set the bond at $1 million, noting he had read the police report.
“I think it's a good case for the state of Connecticut,” the judge said.
Both of the men were scheduled to return to court May 29, and state police said they expect to lodge additional charges against them. According to a report prepared by the Eastern District Major Crime Squad, each of the robberies in which the men are accused occurred on a Tuesday morning, shortly after the opening of the banks. In each case, the suspect's car fled in the direction of a major highway. Witnesses provided descriptions of both the driver and the robber.