- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

The Pennsylvania pizza man who robbed a bank and died when a bomb locked around his neck exploded was carrying another weapon at the time of his death, adding more intrigue to the odd tale that has made headlines around the world.

“It’s a classic whodunit,” said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokesman Patrick J. Berarducci, adding he’s received calls about the case from as far away as Tokyo.

Brian Douglas Wells pleaded with police minutes before he died last week, claiming he was forced to wear the bomb and to rob the bank.

“One of the things we’re working on is the possibility that he was acting alone to rob the bank or that he was part of a conspiracy or that he was a victim,” said William Crowley, special agent with the FBI’s Pittsburgh field office.

Yesterday, federal law enforcement officials working the case in Erie, Pa., said that a second weapon found on Mr. Wells after the brick-sized bomb around his neck exploded raises even more questions. They declined to identify the weapon.

Last Thursday, Mr. Wells robbed a PNC bank in Erie, telling employees he was carrying a bomb. Witnesses phoned the state police, who stopped Mr. Wells’ car on a busy strip of road in the northwest Pennsylvania city.

Troopers handcuffed him and sat him inside a ring of cruisers as he pleaded with them, saying the bomb, clamped to a collar around his neck and hanging out of view beneath his shirt, was about to explode. Moments later it did, as state troopers waited for the Erie Police Department’s bomb squad to arrive.

Mr. Berarducci said his agency, the FBI and the Pennsylvania State Police are working together to investigate several possibilities.

“It’s way too early to rule out anything,” he said, stressing authorities want help identifying the bomb collar.

The FBI posted on its Web site photos of the collar and the bomb attached to it, asking anyone with information to call 866/219-2008.

“It’s a unique piece and we’re hoping someone out there can help us identify what it may have come from,” Mr. Berarducci said. “Was it specifically made for this use or was it a part of something else and adapted for this use?”

Authorities said Mr. Wells, a single 46-year-old who lived alone and worked at Mama Mia’s Pizzeria in Erie, had been sent on a delivery just before the bank robbery. The address given for the delivery turned out to be that of a radio tower on an isolated gravel road.

Mr. Wells next showed up at the bank, about a mile and half from the pizzeria, where authorities said he gave tellers a lengthy handwritten note demanding money. Another note found in his car had instructions on it.

Law enforcement authorities said they were considering releasing portions of the letter in hopes someone might recognize the handwriting.

In addition to hashing out why he simply did not go to the police, investigators are trying to explain why he was unable to use the weapon found on his person after his death to prevent a person from forcing a bomb collar around his neck in the first place. Pizza-delivery drivers are known to carry weapons for protection on deliveries.

An employee at the pizzeria yesterday declined to comment on whether Mr. Wells carried a weapon while on the job.

Refusing to fully identify the weapon, officials appearing on national television yesterday described it as unique and while not a knife, it also is “not what people traditionally think of as a gun.”

Meanwhile, in another odd twist to the case, one of Mr. Wells’ fellow drivers at the pizzeria turned up dead in his home over the weekend. As of yesterday, authorities still were investigating the death of Robert Pinetti, 43, although Mr. Crowley said it was “more than likely” a suicide or caused by an overdose.

An autopsy showed narcotics in Mr. Pinetti’s system and police said he was a known substance abuser, Mr. Crowley said, adding that “right now they haven’t found anything to link him to the bank robbery.”

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