Black Mountain police apprehend robbery suspect after chase

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
Brian Keith Leonhart, who was wanted in connection with an Aug. 4 robbery in Black Mountain and an Aug. 5 bank robbery in Asheville, was apprehended in Black Mountain after a chase on Aug. 6.

A high-speed chase through the center of Black Mountain ended with the apprehension of a man suspected of a series of crimes in recent days. 

Brian Keith Leonhart, 40, was wanted in connection with a robbery in Black Mountain on Aug. 4 and the armed robbery of First Citizens Bank on 1201 Tunnel Road in Asheville on Aug. 5. 

Leonhart has been charged with the following, Asheville Police Department spokeswoman Jerri Jameson said on Aug. 6, after he was taken into custody: robbery with dangerous weapon; possession of firearm by felon; common law robbery; larceny of motor vehicle; two counts of assault with deadly weapon; and possession of stolen vehicle.

Accused in 2 robberies

Asheville Police Department issued a warrant for Leonhart's arrest after images from a security camera showed him walking into the bank with a semi-automatic handgun and demanding money from an employee. 

Leonhart fled the bank in a white SUV, which was traveling east on Tunnel Road, APD said in a statement. That vehicle, a Mitsubishi Endeavor with Florida license plates, was stolen during a common law robbery on the Flat Creek Greenway off of Charlotte Street, according to Black Mountain Police Chief Shawn Freeman. 

The Mistubishi was recovered in Jackson County after the bank robbery, according to APD. Leonhart then stole a 2005 red Ford Focus near the scene of the abandoned Mitsubishi, the department said. 

Black Mountain police spotted a vehicle matching the description of the Focus during a routine traffic stop on U.S. 70, Freeman said. 

"Two officers were on the scene of an unrelated traffic stop and one of them observed a car matching the description of the stolen vehicle," he said. "As the vehicle passed, the officer positively identified the driver as Brian Keith Leonhart."

The officers attempted to stop the vehicle and a chase ensued, Freeman said. 

Chase out of Black Mountain and back

"The suspect led the officers into Swannanoa and came back east on (Old U.S. 70)," he said. "He took a right on Grove Stone Road and before heading east on U.S. 70 and continued through downtown."

The chase continued through the parking lot of a shopping center on Old U.S. 70 East before Leonhart exited the parking lot heading north on Flat Creek Road, Freeman said. 

"He turned left on East Cotton (Avenue) and continued across Montreat Road onto West Cotton," the chief said. "He lost control of the vehicle at the end of West Cotton and fled on foot."

Officers set up a perimeter around the wooded area Leonhart was seen entering. 

"We were cautious in our search of the area because he was believed to be armed," Freeman said. 

As Freeman and another officer were securing the perimeter on Genesis Circle, the chief spotted Leonhart through the tree line.

Officers apprehended Leonhart, who was unarmed, at around 2:25 p.m. They recovered the semi-automatic pistol they said they believe was used in the bank robbery from the stolen vehicle. 

The chase, which Freeman said reached "high speeds at times," included officers from the Buncombe County Sheriff's Department and the Department of Health and Human Services, who joined after the suspect approached the area around the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women. 

"We were able to take him into custody and nobody was hurt," Freeman said.

Wanted for additional crimes

Leonhart was also wanted on two counts of assault with a deadly weapon related to separate incidents in Asheville on Aug. 4. 

The warrants charge Leonhart with stabbing a man in the side and cutting a woman's fingers in the act of swinging a knife. 

Additionally, Leonhart was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon. The warrant states Leonhart, who was convicted of robbery with a dangerous weapon in after pleading guilty in 2013, possessed a black semiautomatic handgun. The firearm was taken from the Mitsubishi stolen in Black Mountain on Aug. 4, according to police.