Fox cleared of bank robbery charges, trying to get his life back

Debbie Rolen drolen@civitasmedia.com

September 27, 2013

When Billy Joe Fox agreed to give a neighbor a ride to Ashland, Ky., he had no idea, it would change his life forever. The story of one of the longest days of his life unfolded as he got home from work.

Billy Joe Fox, 21, of Amherstdale in Logan County, W.Va., worked the night of June 17 at a coal mine. He had agreed to take a neighbor to Ashland, Ky., so he swung by his parent’s house to pick up their four-cylinder Chevrolet Cavalier to take advantage of the good gas mileage it got, before picking up the neighbor and heading out on W.Va. Route 10.

The two drove all the way to Grayson, Ky. which Fox estimates took them about two and a half hours. Once there, Fox drove his neighbor to two different banks where he says the neighbor went into offices and spoke with bank representatives while he sat in the lobby and read the paper and waited for him.

When they left the bank, the neighbor said they had to come back to the banks at around 1 p.m. so he could open his safe deposit boxes, which he couldn’t do now for some reason he did not share. Fox then took the neighbor to see family he had who lived at Flatwoods, Ky., which was a 30-40 minute drive away.

Fox said the neighbor visited with his former wife and daughter, sharing a couple of cups of coffee with them before leaving at somewhere around 11a.m. They drove by a Ford dealership and the neighbor wanted to stop and look at vehicles, ultimately starting paperwork on a vehicle for his former wife.

They took the vehicle and picked up the wife and daughter to bring them back to the dealership to finalize paperwork on the car, going back by the banks. This time, only the neighbor went inside the bank to conduct business. When he came out, he was not happy and said he was going to have to stay.

They went back to the Ford dealership and Fox and the neighbor disagreed about his staying behind. Fox had never been the route they came and was unsure of how to get home. He didn’t want to stay any later because he needed to get home in case he was called out to work. He says he “smacked” the neighbor more than once to empasize the need for him to come with him. Finally, the two headed back to Amherstdale at about 2:30 p.m.

Anyone who has ever made the 115-120 trip knows that it takes, at the very least, two and a half hours. At that time, however, there was road construction going on and there were a couple of areas that could have caused delays up to 15 minutes at a time and there is always the possibility of being held up by trains.

Back at Flatwoods, Ky., the PNC Bank branch in the 2200 block of Argillite Road was held up just before 4:30 p.m., that same afternoon. Flatwoods Police Chief Kraig Hankins said his officers were joined in an all night search by West Virginia State Police, Kentucky State Police, Russell, Grayson, Raceland and Bellefonte Police after a warrant was issued for the suspect.

Billy Joe Fox wound up being that suspect and was arrested and charged with the robbery. Even though that particular bank was not a bank Fox says he visited on June 18. The neighbor, who was the one who interacted with bank employees, was never arrested.

Fox said he got up at around 8:30 a.m. on June 20, headed to the kitchen for a soda and a smoke, grabbed the remote and sat down in his chair to turn on the television, but heard the sound of doors slamming in his front yard and got up to open the door to look out. The next thing he knew, he was on the ground in handcuffs, with guns at his head. Officers had also awakened his 18-month-old daughter and pulled his wife out of bed at gunpoint to place her in handcuffs.

He thought he was being arrested for having the television the neighbor had given him as partial payment on the $1,100 debt he owed him. Fox knew the television belonged to the neighbor’s wife and worried he had taken it without her permission.

The officers had already been to Fox’s parent’s home, waking them to hold them at gunpoint. Fox’s father thought it was about the television set his son had left at his home.

Both homes were searched more than once, with nothing found.

“I knew my boy didn’t do any such thing,” said Fox’s father,”We raised him right. He works in the mines. He doesn’t need to be robbing a bank.”

The family soon learned this intrusion into their lives was about something much more important than a television set.

Young Fox spent a week in jail. He lost his job. As weeks slipped into months, Fox lost his home and had to sell or give away possessions so he and his wife, who are expecting again, and their daughter could move back in with his parents.

The quarters are cramped for the two families, but Fox is finally back to work and the young couple hope to get back on their feet and out on their own soon.

Tim DiPiero is the attorney the family hired to help get Billy Joe cleared of the charges they knew he was innocent of.

“I had to get witnesses who saw Billy here at Amherstdale from after 5 p.m. on that day, I got a letter from Chase bank verifying that there is only one debit card for the account Billy and his wife have and I got records from the bank with the charges that were made in Kentucky and then back here that evening at 6:12 p.m. Bill passed a polygraph given by a police officer in Kanawha County and we had that. We had to sign a statement that the police had probable cause, to keep us from filing suit, before they would drop the charges, but Bill just wanted to get back to work and get his life back, so that’s what we did,” said DiPiero.

DiPiero says he is currently trying to seek some relief for the family from victim advocacy organizations.