A pair of suspected bank robbers fleeing police Saturday on the San Diego Freeway in Costa Mesa threw handfuls of money out the window as they drove, setting off a chaotic scramble among motorists trying to gather up the cash.
"We're still investigating, but I don't think much was recovered," one FBI source said.
Early estimates set the robbers' haul at $10,000 and the recovered money at $5,000, but police said they were still waiting for exact tallies.
"It looked like Christmas morning," said Costa Mesa Police Officer Gary Bennett, who was behind the suspects as they headed north onto the Costa Mesa Freeway, still tossing out money.
"It was loose. It went out in two or three different clumps. It just went up like a big mushroom cloud and trickled down. It was blowing in the wind. People were stopping all over the freeway as we were pursuing the suspects."
California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Thompson said that "at least a dozen" cars stopped on the transition road between the San Diego and Costa Mesa freeways and their occupants ran to harvest the scattered bills, many of them $100 denominations.
He said that at first he tried to pick up the money but stopped when he realized he could not keep up with his competition. He said he then rode his motorcycle among the cars, extended his hand and the drivers sheepishly handed over the money without a word.
"I felt like the tax man," he said.
Meanwhile, officers broadcast a traffic advisory warning motorists to avoid the area because police were picking up "paper debris."
Officers said money was found scattered along 3 miles of the Costa Mesa Freeway up to Edinger Avenue in Santa Ana, where the suspects turned off, eventually spun out their car and were captured.
Officers said they also found a sawed-off, .410-gauge shotgun and shells along the freeway.
According to police, a man entered the Glendale Federal Savings & Loan branch at Harbor Boulevard and Wilson Street in Costa Mesa at 11:27 a.m. and pulled a sawed-off shotgun from under his coat. He robbed several tellers, then fled to a waiting early model Volkswagen where a driver was waiting.
Police broadcast a description of the getaway car within a few minutes. The Costa Mesa police helicopter spotted a car of that description heading north on Harbor toward the San Diego Freeway, and the chase began.
The chase reached speeds of 80 m.p.h.
"They were all over the freeway," Bennett said. When the suspects' car left the freeway at Edinger Avenue, then tried to turn off onto Standard Street, it hit a puddle of water and spun around. Officers surrounded the car and the suspects surrendered peacefully, police said.
They identified the suspects as David Cota, 20, who allegedly entered the bank, and Anthony Emmett Vega, 19, who allegedly drove the car. Police said both men were "from the L.A. area."