Businessmen help in Whangamata bank attack

MARYANNE TWENTYMAN
Last updated 05:00 30/10/2012
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ

Eye-witnesses Glenn Sonntag and Jay Reece talk about the attack on the BNZ bank in Whangamata by an axe-wielding man.

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A 53-year-old "community man" was to appear in court today after an alleged axe rampage through a small-town bank.

Residents in the seaside town of Whangamata are reeling after the man - a prominent business owner - walked into the BNZ Bank with an axe yesterday, inflicting thousands of dollars worth of damage.

The man will appear in the Hamilton District Court today charged with attempted aggravated robbery and intentional damage.

G J Gardner general manager Glenn Sonntag was one of three men who helped bank staff escape the alleged attack after he heard glass smashing just after 10am.

"I heard a thump, thump, thump and a big crash, so I went out and two of the staff had already come out.

"I told them to relax and asked if anyone else was inside because the bank looked completely empty," Mr Sonntag said.

"The girls were really upset and said the manager was still inside, so I ran around the back to look into her office - I thought he might have her in there."

As Mr Sonntag checked the rear of the building, colleague Jay Reece returned with his morning coffee.

"It was weird; the staff were outside and I could see people standing and staring at the bank, and when I realised what was happening I went to the door and called out to see if anyone was inside," Mr Reece said.

Metres away, the man was allegedly holed up in a side office. Moments later, Mr Reece saw the manager appear through a security door from the back.

"I don't think she realised that he was in the side office, or if she did, it was a very brave thing to do because he could have easily intercepted her if he'd wanted to."

Mr Reece said the branch manager walked quickly towards him, past smashed computers, furniture and broken glass.

"Once she came out, me and another guy - Brandon from Coastal Engineering - got hold of some rope and secured the front doors. We figured it was the best thing to do, to keep him inside until the cops arrived."

Police arrived armed with "a large rifle, a Glock [pistol] and a Taser", according to Mr Sonntag, who said they quickly secured the bank.

"Vince [Sergeant Vince Ranger] had the Taser and he walked up to the door of the office [where the offender was hiding] and just opened the door and then stood back, he must have been talking to him, then he went in and it was all over," Mr Sonntag said.

"They brought him out a short time later and he was handcuffed and completely quiet," he said.

The 53-year-old father of two was taken into police custody following the incident which Mr Sonntag described as "completely out of character" for the well-liked community man.

"He's a good man with a wonderful wife and great kids - I have no idea what would make him snap like that, I just hope he's OK," Mr Sonntag said.

Police and BNZ management praised the men for their efforts in helping the staff following the incident which ended without injury.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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