Police used helicopters and bloodhounds and went door to door in a large area of Laguna Niguel Monday in the search for a robbery suspect who broke out of a police van while on his way to court.
The suspect, identified as Travis James Rhoades, 26, of Escondido, kicked out the side window of the van and then jumped out of the moving vehicle while still handcuffed, authorities said.
The San Clemente police van was on Alicia Parkway within a few hundred yards of South County Municipal Court when Rhoades escaped at about 8:30 a.m., Sheriff's Sgt. Wayne Carlander said. The prisoner was to be arraigned on charges of attempting to rob three San Clemente motels on Saturday.
Rhoades ran across the street into a shopping plaza and disappeared, Carlander said. Sheriff's deputies conducted a door-to-door search over an approximate 5-mile radius in the heavily residential area of Laguna Niguel near the intersection of Alicia and Crown Valley parkways.
"We don't know whether he got a ride out of the area or is holed up somewhere," Sheriff's Sgt. Bob White said.
The prisoner was being transported to court with at least seven other prisoners from the San Clemente jail.
Rhoades is about 6 feet tall and weighs 165 pounds, San Clemente Police Sgt. Jim Thomas said. Rhoades has brown eyes and shoulder-length brown hair and was wearing blue jeans and a blue denim jacket.
Thomas said Rhoades tried to rob three motels in a 30-minute span Saturday evening by claiming that he had a gun. However, workers at all three motels said Rhoades did not convince them that he was carrying a firearm, and he failed to get any money.
Bob Martin, manager of the San Clemente Holiday Inn at 111 Avenida de la Estrella, said his desk clerk told him that the robber "stuck his hand in his pocket and said he would blow (the clerk's) head off, but that this guy just wasn't believable." When the clerk went into a back room to call police, the suspect ran away.
Rhoades allegedly went on to attempt robberies of the Econo Lodge at 2002 S. El Camino Real and the San Clemente Motor Lodge before police caught up with him at the intersection of San Luis Rey and Avenida del Presidente, Thomas said.
Thomas said Rhoades has been arrested for burglaries in the San Diego area. He also has a $12,000 warrant outstanding in San Diego for drunk driving, police said. He was being held in the San Clemente jail in lieu of $25,000 bail for the robbery charges.