Captured hotel clerk shares glimpse of captors’ life on run

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama hotel clerk abducted at gunpoint says his captors shared glimpses of their life on the run, telling him they hope to make it to Florida to get married and start a new life.

Police say they have linked a Missouri couple to three crimes that cross state lines and fit a pattern: People are robbed, kidnapped and let go unharmed, usually after a car is stolen. Police identified the couple as Blake Fitzgerald and Brittany Nicole Harper of Joplin, Missouri. They’re wanted for crimes in Alabama and Georgia.

Kyle Dease told the news site Al.com (http://bit.ly/1UJtddn ) that during the nearly two hours he was held captive in a stolen car, he spoke with his abductors after they took him at gunpoint from the Microtel Inn and Suites in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he was the night clerk.

The couple entered the hotel around 6 a.m. Sunday, saying they’d run out of gas and were trying to get to Panama City, Florida, according to Dease. Moments later, Dease said, the man pulled a semiautomatic pistol and said he needed money and a car.

“At that point, I was just praying that nobody else walked into the lobby,” Dease told Al.com. “He kept yelling at me, screaming at me. He said he didn’t want to hurt me, but if he had to he would.”

The man forced Dease out of the hotel, he said, and into a black Volkswagen Jetta that belonged to the clerk’s girlfriend.

“They kept saying they wanted a fast car like a Mustang or Porsche,” Dease said. “They said, ‘We’re not going to outrun anybody in a Jetta.'”

The couple was concerned about being tracked, Dease said, and said they had ditched a stolen SUV because it had a tracker. Once in Dease’s girlfriend’s car, they turned off the radio and ditched the GPS, he said.

By the time they arrived in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, Dease said the couple blindfolded him. They then tried to rob a McDonald’s manager outside her restaurant, demanding money and her car keys, according to Hoover police. The manager screamed, threw her keys on the ground and ran into the store as the couple fled, Capt. Gregg Rector said. The couple is suspected in the case but not yet charged, Rector said.

The couple has been charged with abducting a woman in nearby Vestavia Hills about 15 minutes after they left the McDonald’s empty-handed, authorities said. The woman, like the other victims, was later dropped off unharmed.

Dease said he was told to exit the car at a condominium complex.

“I don’t think they want to hurt anybody, but … I’m afraid if the cops corner them, they’re going to go out shooting,” Dease said.

Missouri records show that in 2013, Fitzgerald and an accomplice were charged with burglarizing a Joplin woman at knifepoint in her home and making off with her purse, jewelry, electronics and a car. Fitzgerald entered an Alford plea — not admitting guilt but acknowledging that prosecutors had sufficient evidence for a conviction — and was sentenced to a suspended seven-year prison term.

The latest crime linked to the couple happened when a gunman held up a young clerk at a Murphy Express station along Interstate 75 in south Georgia late Monday, taking money from the safe and cigarettes before forcing the clerk into an SUV where his female accomplice waited, authorities said. The couple drove about 15 miles before releasing the clerk unharmed, Perry police Lt. Ken Ezell said.

They appeared to be heading south toward Florida, Ezell said.

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