Car tag leads to Newnan man suspected in two area bank robberies

A partial tag number led authorities to a 56-year-old man suspected of twice robbing banks in the Columbus area before retreating to his home in Newnan, Ga.

John Ernest Johnston of 62 W. Washington St. in Newnan faces charges of armed robbery and possessing a firearm during the commission of a crime in Tuesday’s 2:30 p.m. robbery of the BB&T bank at 6100 Whitesville Road in Columbus.

Police radio broadcasts immediately following the incident indicated a witness got part of the tag number of the gray 2006 Honda Accord in which the suspect fled, and investigators quickly tracked the vehicle registration to a Newnan address.

Such tips are crucial in quickly solving crimes, said Columbus police Sgt. Harvey Hatcher. Given a general vehicle description and part of its tag number, “we can work on it,” he said. He said Newnan police arrested Johnston Tuesday night.

When BB&T workers described the robber as a tall, gray-haired white man wearing a hat, police immediately were reminded of the Sept. 8 robbery of a CB&T bank in Phenix City, Hatcher said. Johnston likely will face charges in that case, too, Hatcher said. He said the FBI is taking over the investigation and will handle both cases.

In a Wednesday hearing before Judge Mary Buckner in Columbus Recorder’s Court, public defender Charles Lykins entered a not guilty plea on Johnston’s behalf and waived the hearing. Buckner sent the case to Muscogee Superior Court, leaving Johnston jailed without bond.