A brazen attempt by a couple to force a man to withdraw money from his Bay of Islands bank yesterday was foiled when alert bank staff triggered a silent alarm bringing armed police swarming to the scene.
A short time later, one alleged offender was arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm and kidnapping, while the other was left fighting for his life after a high-speed crash near Moerewa.
A 22-year-old man and a 35-year-old woman, believed to be partners, allegedly entered Paihia's ASB Bank branch with a third person on the corner of Selwyn and Williams Rds shortly after 10.30am yesterday.
Paihia Dive employee Toby Johnston, who works next door to the bank, said he became curious when he heard shouting from the bank about 10.30am and went outside when he saw police cars fly past.
"There were police walking around everywhere with guns. I saw five or six police cars and about four police officers with guns. It was buzzy. It's not what you expect at 10.30am on Monday in a small town," he said.
Northland Detective Senior Sergeant Kevan Verry said the pair allegedly attempted to extort money from the third person, before bank staff triggered the alarm which notified police. Verry said the pair didn't bring firearms with them into the bank.
The pair then allegedly fled and attempted to leave in separate cars, Verry said. The woman, from Paihia, was almost immediately caught by armed police and a police dog about 20m down Williams Rd near Countdown in a grey Audi.
Verry, also the officer in charge of organised crime, said two loaded firearms were found.
Police did not initially locate the man, who was from Kaikohe, but he was later spotted in a white Holden Commodore heading towards Moerewa on State Highway 1 by a police vehicle heading south towards Kawakawa, which then monitored the vehicle but did not engage in a pursuit.
Soon after, the man - who was the sole occupant of the car - crashed at speed into a tree, snapping it off at the base, as well as smashing through several concrete posts in a fence bordering the Affco freezing works.
The man, with critical neck and spinal injuries, was flown to Whangārei Hospital where he was in a stable but serious condition as at 7pm yesterday and under police guard.
Verry said police were trying to establish the pair's motive but believed it to be an isolated incident, not one which indicated random attacks on businesses would ensue.
"We'd like to reassure the community that they are safe, we are following strong lines of inquiry, but anyone that has information or knows about what happened, please contact police on phone number 105 or via an online form at 105.police.govt.nz."
The man was charged with breach of bail but would likely face further charges today. The woman would appear in Kaikohe District Court today.
Far North police area commander Inspector Riki Whiu said the absence of seatbelt marks on the man's body, and the fact he was found outside the vehicle, suggested he was unrestrained. Speed was thought to be a factor in the crash.
"For some unknown reason, the vehicle has veered off the road, lost control on the grass verge, gone through a fence and collided with trees," he said.
It is understood the man was a close associate of the Tribesmen Motorcycle gang.
By yesterday afternoon, the bank was open for business as usual, though with a security guard at the door. Staff appeared unfazed but directed enquiries to ASB's head office.
An ASB spokesperson said the bank was aware of an "incident" at its Paihia branch and confirmed no staff or customers were hurt, but wouldn't elaborate on what the incident was.
The spokesperson said a team of support staff was assisting, and the bank was working with police with their inquiries.
A witness to the incident said a grey Audi pulled up beside Paihia's central Countdown supermarket before it was immediately blocked by a unmarked police vehicle.
The witness, who wished to remain anonymous, said the atmosphere was tense when armed police removed the woman from the vehicle.
"We just obviously didn't know what was happening and when [police] get out of their vehicles with guns and tasers, you sort of get a bit concerned really, especially with what recently happened with the police in Puketona," she said.
In Puketona last month, a police officer was lucky to escape with her life after she was shot at from close range. The men involved are still on the run.