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Orange County

Fleeing Suspect Kills Himself

After an Irvine bank robbery, the man believed to be the 'Whisper Bandit' leads police on an I-5 chase, then commits suicide.

May 02, 2003|Zeke Minaya | Times Staff Writer

A suspected serial bank robber tried to elude police in Irvine on Thursday by driving the wrong way on Interstate 5 at speeds that reached 120 mph before fatally shooting himself, authorities said. The 34-year-old Los Angeles man, whose name was not released, is believed to be the "Whisper Bandit," a bank robber so nicknamed because of his soft-spoken manner with tellers.

Seven Orange County bank robberies are attributed to him this year, FBI spokeswoman Cheryl Mimura said.

At about noon, the man allegedly entered the Wells Fargo branch at 4850 Barranca Parkway, showed a teller a gun tucked in his waistband and demanded money, said Irvine Police Cmdr. Dave Freeland. He fled with about $8,000, Freeland said.

A bank customer saw the robber drive off in a green Honda Accord and alerted police, who spotted a car of that description a few minutes later near the intersection of Jeffrey Road and Walnut Avenue, Freeland said.

Police tried to stop the car but it sped south on the northbound lanes of Interstate 5, Freeland said.

No collisions occurred.

During the 25-mile pursuit, officers saw the man hold a gun to his head, Freeland said.

The chase wound over two additional freeways before circling back to Interstate 5 heading south, Freeland said.

The California Highway Patrol, Anaheim police and the Orange County Sheriff's Department joined Irvine authorities in the pursuit, Freeland said.

As the pursuit passed the Las Pulgas Road exit about five miles into San Diego County, officers saw the man slump over in his seat as the car veered into a ditch, Freeland said.

He apparently had shot himself in the head, Freeland said.

The man was airlifted to Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo, where he died about 2:26 p.m.

The "Whisper Bandit" was wanted for seven bank robberies in Seal Beach, Costa Mesa, Ladera Ranch and Irvine dating to Jan. 1 and including Thursday's heist, FBI spokeswoman Mimura said.

The athletically built bandit, captured on surveillance photos, would approach tellers with a cap pulled low over his eyes and softly demand money to avoid drawing attention, Mimura said.

No one was injured during his robberies, FBI officials said.

Since January there have 34 bank robberies in Orange County, according to Mimura. That number is up from 24 robberies at the same time last year.

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