Robbery suspect claimed needle contaminated with AIDS

Police charge man with aggravated robbery, evading arrest, theft

By Jim Balloch
A man whose car crashed into a house in Lenoir City early this morning while being chased by police has been charged with using a syringe he claimed was contaminated with AIDS to rob two stores.

Robert Snelson, 42, will be arrested when he is released from the University of Tennessee Medical Center, said Detective Jack Fine of the Lenoir City Police Department.

Fine said warrants have been issued charging Snelson with two counts of aggravated robbery, one count of felony evading arrest, and one count of theft under $500 in connection with the stolen car he was driving when he crashed into the house. He also was charged with driving on a revoked license.

Snelson is charged with using a syringe to rob the KenJo Market at 1104 U.S. Highway 321 this morning, and to rob another KenJo Market on Sept. 6.

“Exact same MO, both times,” Fine said, referring to claims made by the robber that the syringe was contaminated with AIDS.

This morning’s robbery was reported at 3:56 a.m. At needle-point the clerk surrendered $80 in cash to the robber,

“A male subject went in and brandished a hypodermic needle,” said Lt. David Flynn, who heard the call on his police radio, and immediately remembered the earlier KenJo robbery, which he had investigated and in which the description of the getaway car, a gray Ford Escort, was also the same.

Within a minute of this morning’s robbery, Flynn saw a gray Escort on Harrison Road near the Lenoir City High School. When the lieutenant tried to stop the car, it fled.

“I thought then I probably had the right car,” Flynn said. The chase covered a couple miles, Flynn said, and led onto West Hills Drive in the residential West Hills community. The driver of the Escort lost control and slammed into the corner of a single-story house at 220 West Hills Drive, Flynn said. “It buckled the wall, but the house was well-built,” Flynn said. “The residents were scared, but they were fine and weren’t hurt.” Names of the house occupants were not available. The car collapsed and trapped the driver on the passenger side. Flynn called for the Lenoir City Fire Department to extricate the driver from the car. He said the driver, who was not using a seat belt, was entrapped for about 15 minutes.

Flynn described the driver as “rattled,” but not talkative. Under the driver’s seat, Flynn said, police found the stolen $80.Fine said the syringe was not found in the car. “Apparently, he tossed it out somewhere,” Fine said. He said Snelson has a “very lengthy” criminal record. Snelson is listed in stable condition at UT Medical Center.