By Dave Rogers
---- — SALISBURY — Six days a week for the past six years, Salisbury resident Mark Hreha has cruised the streets of Salisbury, Seabrook and Hampton delivering newspapers to businesses and households as a contractor for The Daily News. And much like police officers patrolling the streets of those communities, Hreha has gotten used to the way things look on a day-to-day basis.
But when something looked out of place while he was driving past the Hungry Traveler restaurant on Beach Road on June 8 around 6 a.m. — a white Dodge Ram pickup truck with a ladder parked against the building with its plates missing — it caught Hreha’s attention.
Hreha said for weeks he had seen the truck parked next to a small cabin owned by the restaurant proprietors, one of a handful rented out to tenants on a weekly basis. But when he noticed the truck parked in a different location and realized it matched the description of a truck mentioned in a previous Daily News story regarding the Institution for Savings bank robbery the day before, he became suspicious.
“It was bizarre,” Hreha said.
A few minutes later, Hreha drove by Pat’s Diner where he spotted a police cruiser in the parking lot. Popping into the popular Salisbury Square restaurant, he approached Salisbury police Sgt. Robert Roy, who had just sat down to grab a bite to eat and drain a cup of coffee.
Within moments of passing along what he noticed to Roy, the veteran police officer had called dispatch to relay the information. Minutes later, police were at the scene outside the Hungry Traveler, interviewing a man who had packed two bags and was waiting for a taxi to start his journey to New York.
The man turned out to be 53-year-old Andrew Bayko, who was charged with robbing the bank. One of the bags contained more than $6,000 allegedly stolen from the Institution for Savings, according to police.
Police gained a search warrant for Bayko’s cabin and there found evidence that linked him to the robbery. A pair of blue gloves was found inside a vat of grease behind the restaurant and clothes matching the kind the suspect wore when robbing the bank were discovered in a black plastic bag inside a nearby Dumpster.
In addition to being charged with armed and masked robbery, Bayko was also charged with use/possession of a hoax device and a previous warrant. The bank robbery caused a major headache for evening commuters, because a phony “bomb” the robber left behind resulted in the shutting down of Salisbury Square and a portion of busy Route 1.
Police officers are trained to look for the unusual, to spot things seemingly out of place. But for Hreha, his training came on the job. Herha said he typically begins his shift around 2:30 a.m. and delivers papers to several stores up into Hampton. Once completing his last business delivery, around 5:45 a.m., he begins delivering single copies to subscribers. By 8 a.m. he has tossed his last newspaper and is done for the day.
Over the years of following generally the same route, Hreha has picked up a lot of details about the communities he drives through. For weeks he had seen the white pickup truck parked outside the Hungry Traveler, a restaurant where he is considered a regular customer. According to police, Bayko had been living in the cabin for at least five weeks and used some of the money he allegedly stole to pay off his rent, which was several weeks behind. So, just by repetition and routine, Hreha knew, just like academy-trained police officers, that something was amiss that morning.
“When I’m on the road, I see a whole lot of different things. I’m their eyes when they’re not there,” Herha said, adding that had the truck been parked at its normal spot, he would have driven right by it.
In the days following Bayko’s arrest, Hreha has been lauded a hero by both bank officials and law enforcement. Gracious tellers thanked him for stepping forward and gave him a $100 reward.
“They were so grateful to me. But the main thing is nobody got hurt,” Hreha said. “The guy robbed my bank and scared a lot of people — it’s just not right. When someone just threatens other people, I just don’t go for that.”
Police officers, including Chief Thomas Fowler, called to congratulate him.
“Like the officers all said, ‘it’s people like you,’” Herha said, referring to the importance of the public reaching out to police when they see something suspicious.