DNA links local man to fatal armored truck robbery

DNA lifted from a screwdriver has linked a local man to a stolen SUV used by masked gunmen in the fatal ambush of an armored truck driver at an Uptown bank late last year.

Federal law enforcement officials believe the suspect fled the state and bought a $50,000 car after the December heist, according to court records that reveal new details of the unsolved robbery.

The FBI, which declined to comment on the investigation, appears to be homing in on Lilbear George, 24, who shared details of the robbery with a confidential informant that jibed with surveillance footage and that were “not available in the public domain,” according to an application for a search warrant.

Those documents and others, filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, shed new light on a brazen, apparently carefully orchestrated robbery that occurred a week before Christmas in the parking lot of the Chase Bank at the busy intersection of South Carrollton and South Claiborne avenues.

New Orleans police obtained an arrest warrant for George after the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab matched his DNA to the screwdriver, which was found on the floorboard of the Chevrolet Tahoe the robbers abandoned less than a mile from the bank. The owner of the vehicle told investigators she did not know George and did not recognize the screwdriver, which authorities believe was used to steal the SUV a week before the robbery.

George, who has a criminal record in Orleans Parish, is wanted in New Orleans for illegal possession of stolen things, a police spokesman confirmed Monday. The FBI received permission from a federal judge in late February to trace the suspect’s cellphone, but the number listed in court records appears to have been disconnected.

Investigators have been trying for several months to piece together details of the Dec. 18 robbery, which occurred about 10:45 a.m. as Loomis armored truck driver Hector Trochez was delivering cash to the Chase Bank. Surveillance video that authorities have declined to release shows Trochez’s 22-year-old colleague guiding the vehicle as it backs into a parking space.

At the same time, the dark gray Tahoe is seen following the armored truck into the bank parking lot and backing into a spot two spaces away. Court documents cite a witness who described the SUV as driving erratically as it entered the parking lot. The Tahoe shows up clearly on the bank’s surveillance footage, but the windows are too tinted for investigators to identify its armed occupants.

Trochez’s colleague got back into the truck after it parked, and Trochez got out and began placing boxes of coins on a handcart. “Trochez then placed a bag containing approximately $265,000 in U.S. currency on top of the coin boxes and closed the rear doors of the armored truck,” the application for the search warrant says.

Trochez began pushing the handcart toward the bank when three robbers, dressed in dark clothing and hooded sweatshirts, jumped out of the Tahoe and immediately opened fire on the guard and the truck. Two robbers fired handguns at Trochez, who drew his .40-caliber service pistol and returned fire, court documents say.

“This happened very quickly,” FBI Special Agent Michael Anderson said in the days following the robbery. “Mr. Trochez did not even have any opportunity to hand over the money before these suspects went to guns.”

An autopsy later revealed that Trochez, 45, was killed by a .223-caliber round to the head. “A long gun was not observed on the surveillance video,” the warrant says, “but it is believed the robber on the driver’s side of the Tahoe fired the .223-caliber rifle.”

Two robbers ran toward Trochez and seized the money bag before returning to the Tahoe.

Trochez’s co-worker, who stayed in the armored truck, was not injured in the hail of gunfire.

The robbers sped out of the parking lot, but a witness tailed them and recorded the Tahoe’s license plate number. The vehicle, registered to Tyra Lewis, of New Orleans, had been reported stolen on Dec. 11, one week earlier, court records show.

The witness lost sight of the Tahoe but later spotted a group he perceived to be the robbers running from behind an abandoned home at 1722 Adams St. The fugitives crossed the street and hopped in a gray or silver Honda or Hyundai with a temporary tag the witness provided as 14021564 or 14021654. “The witness observed the robbers travel toward South Carrollton Avenue,” the search warrant says, “where they were lost from sight.”

The Tahoe was found in the backyard of the Adams Street home with its engine still running. Investigators removed a laundry list of items from the vehicle in search of fingerprints and DNA evidence. Among the materials was a parking receipt stamped 11:37 a.m. the day the SUV was stolen, a piece of paper the owner did not recognize.

Two screwdrivers were found on the floorboard, and George’s DNA was matched to one of them. The search warrant says George was believed to have fled Louisiana with “other men,” driving his girlfriend’s red Pontiac G6 with license plate WXW339.

FBI Agent Zachary Elmer said in court records that George purchased a black Infiniti M35 after the robbery. As of late February, he said, it was being driven by George’s girlfriend.

“The investigation is continuing,” said Mary Beth Romig, an FBI spokeswoman.