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Southtrust Building Evacuated

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Hostage situation reported as Southbank office building evacuated

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From Times-Union staff

A hostage situation that resulted in the evacuation of a Riverplace Boulevard business and the shutting down of much of Jacksonville's Southbank has ended peacefully.

The building was evacuated when a caller told police someone was being held at gunpoint on the 13th floor of the building and that an explosive device might be involved.

The floor houses Rogers Towers law firm, which also has offices on parts of the 12th, 14th and 15th floors of the 27-floor structure.

Police said they could not confirm whether there was any kind of device inside.

"At about 11:30 I received a call from Mayor John Peyton who was informing me that he had a suspect on the phone who had allegedly taken a hostage on the 13th floor of the SouthTrust building," Sheriff John Rutherford said. "At that time I requested that the mayor, who was still on the line with the suspect, to continue the conversation with him as long as we could so we could then notify our officers to begin evacuation and securing the suspect on the 13th floor.

"After that, we were able to do that, and the mayor continued to keep him on the phone for 45 minutes, and that gave us enough time get our officers into place and begin negotiating directly with the suspect in this case."

One of the suspect's demands involved a local judge. "Judge Sharon Tanner had a previous criminal case involving the suspect," Rutherford said. "He did demand the judge to go live on TV or there would be consequences, and the judge did agree to go live on TV and resign her position. That did satisfy the suspect and after having confirmed that, though our officers and negotiators, he gave up without incident."

Police cordoned off Riverplace Boulevard from Main Street to Prudential Drive. Hundreds were evacuated, including children in a day care center on the building's first floor.

According to Linda Larkin Smith, a stockbroker at Smith Barney on the sixth floor, they were told the police had received a call that there might be a pipe bomb and a hostage situation at the Rogers Towers law firm on the 13th floor.

At approximately noon, employees at Smith Barney were told to evacuate the office, which they did. According to Larkin-Smith, who lives nearby in San Marco, most had dispersed to area eateries rather than stand around outside in the heat.

Greg Henry of Dupont, Ga., was having lunch with his family nearby.

"This kind of thing sure doesn't happen in Dupont," he said. "We only have 200 people there. I've never seen anything like this in my life."

Peyton and his staff were at a retreat in Ponte Vedra. The hostage taker, who was not thought to be an employee, got on the phone with the receptionist and became agitated, Wiles said. The receptionist then called Peyton's staff to reach the mayor and instructed him to call the law firm.

"I received call while I was in staff meeting at about 11:30, an emergency call," Mayor John Peyton said. "I responded to the call, and was told that a fellow had a hostage, someone who I knew, and that he was being held for specific demands. At that point I was able to simultaneously reach the sheriff's office and was able to keep the suspect on the line."

"John was making conversation and trying to calm the man," said Peyton aide Susan Wiles, who added that Peyton previously knows the hostage and is acquainted with the hostage taker.

Wiles said the conversation was mostly calm but the hostage taker again became agitated. When the conversation ended, Peyton called the hostage's wife to let her know that the hostage was OK.

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Interesting tidbit...

A couple of months ago Judge Tanner (the one that resigned today) was quoted in the folio as saying:

''I'll say myself I don't walk in parts of Jacksonville downtown because of some of these aggressive panhandlers, and they're kind of scary.''

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hmm ... i've never noticed any aggressive panhandlers in jax. but then again, i lived in providence for four years, so maybe my perspective is skewed.

anyway, i'm glad everything turned out alright with the hostage situation. it seemed like law enforcement did exactly what they were supposed to do.

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I heard about that. My football team has three-a-days this week and we are staying overnight at my school. We had heard that the Southtrust building was evacuated and saw the SWAT team, but this is my only break to check on the real news. It is kind of scary!

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My mom used to work at Rogers Towers on the 13th floor, and my little bro went to the preschool on the concourse level. It was pretty scary, but it's over now. It's actually interesting how Peyton played a role in this. BTW, Wolfdawg, what school do you go to?

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hmm ... i've never noticed any aggressive panhandlers in jax. but then again, i lived in providence for four years, so maybe my perspective is skewed.

Aggressive is in the mind of the receipient. Many people consider ANY panhandling as aggressive. I have been panhandled so often, that a mere request for money is not aggressive in my mind, but others would see it that way.

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BK...don't mention that school!!! They are our major rivals. Episcopal is just one mile east going on Atlantic Blvd. Its just under the Hart Bridge.

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