Man charged in robbery, shooting by Smokin Joe's

Posted at 3:12 PM, May 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-24 15:12:17-04

One of two suspects in a shooting last year near Smokin's Joe's that put Niagara Wheatfield High School on lockdown has been captured.

John Billings Jr. was taken into custody Monday afternoon by the Niagara County Sheriff's Office. The 32-year-old Niagara Falls resident is charged with first degree robbery, first degree assault and second degree grand larceny.

Billings is being held on $50,000 bail.

The robbery took place on May 20, 2015 on Saunders Settlement Road in Lewiston. Smokin' Joe's itself was not robbed but the robbery happened nearby.

Deputies say two men tried to rob two others. During the course of the robbery, one victim was shot and suffered a non-life threatening injury.

"We think it was probably premeditated. They knew they were going to rob somebody, they did it and left the area," Niagara County Sheriff Jim Voutour said.

Voutour says the two men ran into the woods right near the store. Heavily armed SWAT teams were on guard. Helicopters circled the area using infrared technology but were unable to find the two suspects.

"There was one tip that they potentially got into a vehicle and left. It was just one tip," Voutour said. "Any time you have a crime, there's always a delay in the response. They get a head start on us. In the interest in public safety, we had to be sure they weren't bunkered down somewhere close to the facility here."

That meant calling in backup from around the area, including the Niagara County Emergency Response team and Niagara Falls Police. Both were training for emergencies like this mere miles away.

"It was luck, it was luck," Voutour said. "With both teams out there and they were going to practice into the evening anyway, this is real life practice for them."

A two-square mile area was closed around the store for hours. Niagara Wheatfield High School was on put into lockdown. Students were bused out of the area with a police escort about 6 p.m.

The remaining suspect is a thin man. He is about 5'6" tall and was last seen wearing a camouflage hoodie with dark pants.