A break in the area's string of armed robberies occurred late Sunday afternoon when a man pulled his pickup truck into the lot of Cigarette Outlet, 1725 E. Third St., as police were investigating a holdup that happened there 30 minutes earlier.
Behind the wheel was Jess David Keck, a 28-year-old admitted heroin addict from Wellsboro, who was handcuffed and placed in the backseat of a state police cruiser within minutes.
At the time, he just was being detained for questioning, but within hours he was charged with allegedly committing Friday's holdup at the Uni-Mart, 1944 W. Fourth St., in the city's Newberry neighborhood.
While investigators declined to say if he was a suspect in Sunday's 4:20 p.m. holdup, court records state that Keck spent considerable time Sunday sitting in his pickup in a lot next to Cigarette Outlet, which also is a check-cashing business.
Beginning about 11:15 a.m., witnesses became suspicious of a man who ended up spending "several hours" in a truck that had pulled into the lot.
"The truck would leave, only to return several times during the next few hours," city police Agent Raymond O. Kontz III wrote in an affidavit.
The man in the vehicle also was seen "discarding" items in a Dumpster, next to the cigarette store.
State troopers, as well as city police, rushed to the outlet business and the Loyalsock Township neighborhood about 4:20 p.m. after a gunman fled the store with an undisclosed amount of cash. It was the fourth area robbery in a week.
While state Trooper Brian Evarts was questioning victims and witnesses at the store, with the assistance of city police Cpl. Damon Hagan, a truck pulled into the lot at 4:45 p.m.
A witness quickly brought it to the officers' attention that the same vehicle and man in the driver's seat had spent much of the day sitting in the adjoining parking lot.
Keck was detained without incident. He initially was taken to the state police barracks in Montoursville, but then handed over to city police to face charges for his alleged involvement in the convenience store holdup.
Kontz said officers recovered from the Dumpster several pieces of evidence, including lottery tickets that were stolen in the 11:55 a.m. robbery at the Uni-Mart.
During that holdup, a bandit walked it, pulled out a gun and demanded all the store's money from the clerk, Kontz said
Waving the weapon around, the gunman repeatedly asked the clerk, "Is it worth your life" not to comply with the order, Kontz said in the affidavit.
After the clerk gave him the cash, the robber went to the lottery rack and took several lottery tickets before fleeing the store, Kontz said.
The rash of robberies began on Oct. 7 at the Nittany Minit Mart at 1450 E. Third St., three blocks from Sunday's holdup.
The second robbery occurred at another Cigarette Outlet store, this one on Lycoming Creek Road in Old Lycoming Township.
Investigators impounded Keck's truck and obtained warrants to search the vehicle and Keck's home as they looked for any evidence that might tie the man to the other three robberies.
If police know why Keck stopped at the outlet store during the course of the on-scene robbery investigation, they are keeping the answer to themselves, at least for now.
Keck was arraigned before District Judge Gary A. Whiteman on charges of robbery, possession of an instrument of crime, simple assault, theft and receiving stolen property.
He was committed to the Lycoming County Prison in lieu of $500,000 bail.