Before the bank robbery

Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate

Homeless couple recounts how they ended up here

A journey full of despair led up to bank robbery charges being filed against a homeless couple, they said this week.

The Triplicate conducted separate interviews with James C. Smith, 43, and his wife, Sarah Williams, 29, at the county jail where they are sitting, charged with the April 16 robbery of the Bank of America branch on H Street.

The couple moved to Crescent City in January to be closer to Sutter Coast Hospital shortly after Williams suffered from an instance of Bell's Palsy, which paralyzed a portion of her face, they said.

They moved from Brookings, where they had lived at a campsite for about a month until they spent all of their money. Smith, who is legless, said he gets a monthly disability stipend of $900.

He lost his legs following a 1998 car accident in Oregon. He said he was riding in the backseat of a vehicle after a night of drinking when it went off the road and crashed into a barn.

"I've been in the chair since," said Smith. "It's been hard. Society is not kind to people in a wheelchair."

He later met Williams, and they moved to Portland and were living under a bridge for a while until they witnessed a brutal beating of a fellow homeless man that scared them enough to flee to Brookings, they said.

Most recently, they had been camping in the woods behind the Crescent City DMV office, they said.

They were unable to afford housing and Williams was unable to find a job, they said.

In jail, Smith now uses a manual wheel-chair. Shortly after his arrest, he said he tried to commit suicide by slicing his wrist. He showed the fresh scar from the cut and where the stitches used to be.

The couple have their next court hearing May 13. Williams is facing a robbery charge and Smith is facing an accessory count.

Authorities say Williams walked into the bank, handed the teller a notedemanding money, received about $2,700 and left.

It was discovered the pair had caught a bus headed toward Arcata, which made a routine stop in Klamath, authorities said.

The driver knew he had bank robbery suspects on board, so he delayed his departure from Klamath until authorites could arrive and arrest them.

"Put yourself in my shoes," said Smith. "When you live in a tent in the woods, nobody in the town cares about you."

Reach Anthony Skeens at .

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Thursday October 27, 2016

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