North Carolina

NC bank robbery suspect who left hospital before police could arrest him is found in SC

Ronnie Wessinger Jr.
Ronnie Wessinger Jr. Benson Police Department

Police in South Carolina on Tuesday night apprehended a man accused of trying to rob a bank in Benson last week.

Ronnie Hiram Wessinger Jr., 46, of Gaffney, South Carolina, was wanted for trying to rob a PNC Bank on April 2, according to a Benson Police Department news release. He was located in Greenville, South Carolina, around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and taken into custody, police say.

The search for Wessinger began earlier in the day after he was discharged from Raleigh’s WakeMed before he could be arrested, police say.

Wessinger was being treated at WakeMed for injuries he sustained during the robbery attempt, police said.

A WakeMed spokeswoman said in a statement that federal patient privacy laws prevent hospitals from notifying law enforcement of a patient’s discharge date and time without a court order.

“We are reviewing the circumstances related to this matter, but in accordance with federal and state privacy laws, including HIPAA, WakeMed cannot comment on any particular patient, regardless of existing reports or media coverage,” WakeMed’s Kristin Kelly said, referring to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Law enforcement can serve warrants and make an arrest while a person is in the hospital, she said. But if that happens, and a patient under arrest is receiving medical care, the law enforcement may be responsible for the medical expenses. As a result, some agencies elect not to arrest a patient who is in the hospital, she said.

Benson is in Johnston County, and police there do not have jurisdiction at WakeMed Raleigh.

Police say Wessinger entered the bank around 4:45 p.m. April 2 with a pistol. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt drawn tightly around his face. When he began to pull out his gun, a person in the bank shot Wessinger in the hip and ankle, police say.

Wessinger dropped his gun, left the bank and was found less than a block away, police say.

After assessing Wessinger’s injuries, EMS took him to WakeMed in Raleigh.

No one has been charged in the shooting, a Benson spokesman said.

Wessinger was charged that day with attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon and second-degree kidnapping, police say.

The next day, a Benson officer tried to interview Wessinger at WakeMed but he told them he did not want to speak without an attorney present, the news release from police said.

Benson police say they spoke with hospital staff about Wessinger’s injuries and about when he might be released from care, the release said. Wake County law enforcement officials were also notified of the outstanding arrest warrant, Benson police say.

On Tuesday, Benson police also charged Wessinger with possession of a firearm by a felon.

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Joe Johnson is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer. He most recently covered towns in western Wake County and Chatham County. Before that, he covered high school sports for The Herald-Sun.