Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Bondsman Makes it his Mission to Catch One Particular Bail Jumper

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CLEARWATER — If you watch the Tampa Bay Rays on television, you've probably seen him. Bald head. Olive skin. Downcast eyes. Wanted for beating up a woman, among other dirty deeds.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is looking for Brian Andrew Word, but perhaps not nearly as intensely as Al Estes Bail Bonds Inc. It's spending $1,400 a month on TV ads featuring Word during all Rays games and offering $7,500 for information leading to his arrest.

"He's a menace to society," said Al Estes Sr. He's dangerous, Estes said, especially to women. Still, he's not the worst the bail bondsman has run across.

So why is he so focused on this guy?

There's the money. Estes stands to lose nearly $100,000 if Word doesn't turn up, though it wouldn't be the first time he's lost money on a bail jumper.

He tells every customer who comes through his office: You might make mistakes, you might be addicted or dishonest, but you don't ignore your court date.

Don't make him come after you. Because he will.

"We're going to get him," said Estes, 77 years old and not afraid of a slick, 6-foot, 41-year-old "good-looking party guy" who apparently took the old man for a fool.

One day in October 2009, a lawyer called Estes' office seeking help for Word, arrested on charges of battery by strangulation, residential burglary and other charges connected to a dispute with Word's former girlfriend. It wasn't Word's first battery arrest.

Estes agreed to bail out Word if someone would vouch for him. Soon, Word's mother, Milene Johnson, showed up. Estes has good luck when mothers get involved. People rarely skip town and leave their mothers to deal with bail bondsmen.

The longer Word is a fugitive, the more Estes Sr. stands to lose. Estes had to pay almost $100,000 to the court since Word missed a February court date, but if he catches Word within two years, he'll get at least half of the amount back. After two years, Estes gets nothing.

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