WATERVILLE — A Thomaston man was arrested Friday afternoon in connection with the morning robbery of Bangor Savings Bank on upper Main Street after a police officer recognized him from a traffic accident earlier, police said.

David Alvarez, 28, formerly of Waterville, was identified as a suspect by an officer who’d been at a traffic accident Alvarez had been involved in about an hour before the robbery. The officer recognized him from a bank surveillance camera photo, Deputy police Chief Charles Rumsey said.

Alvarez, of 6 Wadsworth St., Thomaston, has previously spent time in jail for stealing a woman’s car in Sidney three years ago, hitting her with the car as he fled.

The Waterville bank was robbed shortly after 9 a.m. Friday by a man who handed a teller a note demanding money, was given an undisclosed amount of cash and ran from the bank across nearby Elm Plaza. He was last seen near Maurice’s clothing store, near the south corner of the plaza.

“We ultimately were able to determine the suspect got into his vehicle somewhere in the area of McDonald’s on Main Street,” Rumsey said.

The robbery prompted a massive police search around Elm Plaza, a busy shopping area in the city’s north end. The bank is at the corner of Main Street and Waterville Commons Drive, several hundred feet from exit 130 of Interstate 95.

At 12:20 p.m., police stopped a vehicle on Elm Street and found Alvarez, a passenger, with a large amount of cash, Rumsey said. He was arrested and charged with robbery, a class B felony, class E theft and a probation hold in connection with an earlier charge of theft of a firearm, Rumsey said.

He was taken to a hospital for clearance of an unspecified medical condition and was expected to be taken to the Kennebec County jail in Augusta, Rumsey said. His bail was set at $10,500 cash.

After the robbery, Maine State Police Trooper Rick Moody with a dog, Foster, and other officers, descended a steep snowy embankment behind the bank, walked across Elm Plaza to Champions Fitness Center and then climbed a walking path to McDonald’s restaurant off upper Main Street, where they searched further.

Shortly after Friday’s robbery, Ray LaFrance, 50, of Waterville, was huddled in the cold outside the Big Apple store next to the bank, drinking a cup of coffee.

LaFrance, who works at the nearby Hannaford supermarket, was waiting for a ride when he saw olice converge on the area.

“I was just standing here and all of sudden three cop cars came down Main Street,” LaFrance said. “One cop stopped in the median and asked a guy for ID. Another cop came and asked me how long I’ve been standing here. I said 15 minutes and he asked if I’d seen anything. I didn’t see no activity at the bank.”

Temperatures Friday morning were in the teens and a bitter wind whipped through Elm Plaza as police blocked the back entrance to the bank off Waterville Commons Drive.

Other officers stationed themselves and their cruisers around the area, including outside Champions Fitness Center at the south end of Elm Plaza, as well as at McDonald’s restaurant. Some officers carried rifles as they searched.

In addition to Waterville police, Maine State Police, Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office deputies and officials from the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency were at the scene. Oakland, Winslow and Fairfield police also joined the search.

“These are serious crimes,” Rumsey said, “and so we feel very much for the tellers and for the customers who were in the bank at that time because it’s very traumatic for them.”

POLICE SEARCH

Rumsey said the bank’s security company reported a holdup alarm at the bank just after 9 a.m. A total of 31 officers ultimately worked on the case, he said.

“We immediately responded with all our available units and requested assistance from other local agencies,” he said.

Shortly after the robbery, Waterville police Detective Sgt. William Bonney got a photo of the robber from the bank’s surveillance video and emailed it to all the officers in the area.

When Lefferts saw the photo, he said he knew it was Alvarez and issued a description of him and his clothing, and his vehicle — a green 1996 Chevrolet pickup truck, Rumsey said. The bulletin was dispatched to police statewide.

Meanwhile, Maine Drug Enforcement Agency officials conducted surveillance in several locations in central Maine, interviewed people and gathered evidence, Rumsey said.

Waterville police Detective David Caron, the lead investigator in the case, also was gathering information that led him to College Avenue, where he saw Alvarez get into a vehicle that had stopped to pick him up, Rumsey said.

After that, police converged on Elm Street, stopped the vehicle, arrested Alvarez and briefly detained the driver and another passenger whom they released without charges, he said.

Alvarez had left his pickup truck elsewhere.

Detective Duane Cloutier found the pickup truck that Alvarez had been driving — it was parked on Spruce Street, off College Avenue, Rumsey said. Police seized the truck and planned to search it.

Rumsey said detectives from the State Police Evidence Response Team helped collect and preserve physical evidence in the case.

If convicted, Alvarez faces up to 10 years in prison and up to a $20,000 fine, which Rumsey said is the punishment for a class B felony.

He is scheduled to appear in Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta April 15.

CRIMINAL RECORD

In January 2011, Alvarez pleaded guilty after police say he stole a car parked at Annie’s Variety, a convenience store on Middle Road in Sidney, and hit the owner with it, knocking her to the ground.

Alvarez then drove the car up the road and crashed it and fled into the woods but was found by a dog tracking team.

He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison, with all but 18 months suspended. He was also ordered to pay up to $6,850 for the victim’s uninsured costs. She suffered wrist and hip injuries.

Alvarez pleaded to two counts of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon and one count each of aggravated criminal mischief, theft by unauthorized taking or transfer and operating a vehicle without a license. In exchange for the pleas, a robbery charge against him was dismissed.

Rumsey said Alvarez is known to Waterville police and was arrested here last summer on a warrant.

In 2012, 421 robberies were reported in Maine, including 18 bank robberies, according to the 2012 edition of the Maine State Police Unified Crime Report. Forty-four robberies were reported in Kennebec County in 2012, none of them bank robberies.

Rumsey said he was pleased by the motivation and aggressiveness officers showed Friday in finding a suspect within hours of the holdup.

“This is the kind of day when it’s great to be a cop,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247 acalder@centralmaine.com Twitter: @AmyCalder17