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Former Bulletin photographer’s hug thwarts bank robbery

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POSTED April 15, 2010 3:29 a.m.
A bear hug administered by former Manteca Bulletin news photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner Kim Komenich prevented a man from robbing a San Jose bank.

He kept the man in a tight grip until police arrived minutes later.

Komenich said he had gone to a Wells Fargo Bank branch in downtown San Jose on Monday for a cashier’s check to pay his federal income taxes.  He said while standing in line he noticed two men and a woman in line behind him who appeared to be overly anxious.

Komenich said one man moved to an empty teller window to his right and handed the clerk a note yelling that he wanted money, adding that he had a gun.  It looked like the real thing, and while the former Mantecan said he is usually a “devout coward” he didn’t want the situation to escalate into a tragedy.

The teller had already began to gather up cash for the robber as a 911 call was placed to police that a robbery was actually underway in their South Market Street branch.  As officers were reportedly enroute to the bank, Komenich made his move on the suspect.  

It was when he saw the man reach into his pocket that he made his decision to act, and moved toward the other nearby teller’s window  encapsulating the robber into a tight bear hug – squeezing him in position for a full four minutes in a citizen’s arrest hold until police arrived to take the suspect into custody.

Police arrived at the bank lobby to find Komenich in a tight embrace with the 45-year-old subject.  Victor A. Fernandes and two accomplices, who had remained in the bank lobby, were all arrested on robbery charges.  Officers were not able to locate a weapon presuming the hand in the pocket was only an attempt at the possible simulation of a gun.

Officers quoted the man’s two associates as saying Fernandes showed them the robbery note just before they entered the bank.  The note allegedly asked for cash and warned of a gun.    

As a celebrated graduate of Manteca High School, Komenich won the coveted Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for his coverage of the Ferdinand Marcos regime uprising in the Philippines the year before while working on assignment in that country as a staff photographer for The San Francisco Examiner.

Komenich went to work at The Manteca Bulletin in the ‘70s as a student worker in the photography lab stressing that he wanted to be a news photographer and adding that he would do anything at the paper necessary to reach that goal.

The longtime news and portrait photographer left the Examiner and joined the staff of the San Francisco Chronicle until last year when he became a full-time assistant professor at San Jose State University where he teaches full-time and serves as the advisor for The Spartan college newspaper.

He is currently involved in newly designed multi-media classes that teach not only still photography but actually combines everything from audio to film-styled action into one effective and “exciting” discipline.
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