Spurred by a rash of armed robberies at a bank night-deposit box, Orange police used an undercover officer dressed as a McDonald's restaurant employee to pull off a sting that resulted in the arrest of two men and two teen-agers, police said Sunday.
Police said two robberies had occurred since Aug. 24 at the deposit box at Security Pacific National Bank in The City mall. Tipped that a third was planned for this weekend, officers staked it out Saturday night, Orange Police Sgt. John Higley said.
They watched as four men arrived and hid in bushes and trees near the deposit box, which must be opened with a key.
On cue, undercover Officer Charlene Hess arrived at 11:03 p.m. Saturday, dressed like a fast-food employee and carrying a borrowed canvas bag used for night deposits. Higley said the bag was stuffed with a marked $1 bill and paper towels.
As Hess approached the deposit box, two people jumped from the bushes and charged her.
"One suspect was armed with a knife drawn over his head and was yelling in an apparent attempt to frighten the intended victim," Higley said. At the same time, two others dropped from a tree and rushed toward her. Hess threw the canvas bag, drew her gun, identified herself and ordered them to freeze.
Meanwhile, Orange Police Officer Joe Brucato radioed to about 15 backup officers waiting out of sight. As the officers converged on the area, they began chasing the four robbers, who fled across the mall parking lot.
Higley said a police dog, Sabre, overtook two of them. Police captured a third in brush along the Garden Grove Freeway and the fourth behind a truck at a nearby gas station.
Booked on suspicion of armed robbery were Robert George Burns, 18, of Santa Ana and Lacy Kirk Gholston, 18, whose address is unknown, Higley said.
A 15-year-old Santa Ana boy and a 17-year-old suspect from Orange were booked on suspicion of armed robbery at Orange County Juvenile Hall.
In the first robbery at the night teller, an employee of a fast-food restaurant told police that four males robbed him at knifepoint as he made a deposit about 11:30 p.m. Aug. 24, Higley said.
Higley said James Sisk, 36, who works at El Pollo Loco in nearby Garden Grove, was not injured. A "substantial" amount of cash was stolen, he said.
At 12 minutes after midnight on Sept. 2, 18-year-old Lori Szente was robbed at knifepoint by three males as she was preparing to make a deposit for her employer at the same night drop. Szente wasn't hurt, but again, Higley said, "the loss was substantial."
None of the money from those robberies has been recovered, and more suspects are sought, police said.
Higley advised merchants who deposit large sums of money in such keyed boxes to do it during the day, if possible. If not, he advised them to have employees go in pairs and not to let large sums accumulate.
As the proliferation of automated teller windows and night-deposit drops has made banking more convenient for customers, so, too, has it made them more vulnerable targets in areas that are not well lit or particularly well traveled during off hours, police said.
"They are a real convenience, I must admit," Higley said Sunday. "But occasionally we've had incidents with people using automated tellers or making night drops. . . .
"We had some last spring . . . but there seemed to be no more until these two in the last two weeks."