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3 Held in Bank Theft Suspected in Others

November 14, 2003|Lance Pugmire and Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writers

Three men suspected in a string of recent Coachella Valley bank robberies were arrested Thursday after leading sheriff's deputies and CHP officers on a high-speed chase along eastbound and westbound lanes of Interstate 10.

The men, whose names were not immediately released, were alleged to be in a Ford Expedition that was spotted leaving the scene of a robbery at the PFF Bank and Trust branch in La Quinta about 3:20 p.m.

A Riverside County sheriff's deputy chased them and was eventually joined by 15 other officers, two in helicopters, officials said.

After going an estimated 40 miles on both sides of the freeway at more than 100 mph, the SUV ran across a spike strip that flattened a tire. That forced the driver to steer the vehicle an estimated 50 feet north of westbound lanes into desert sand and brush near the Verbenia Avenue exit on the San Gorgonio Pass, authorities said.

The men abandoned the vehicle and tried to run, but by 3:50 p.m., each had been caught after a brief chase, authorities said.

The suspects were arrested on suspicion of bank robbery, felony evading police and use of a firearm.

Sheriff's spokesman John Kaiser said the latest robbery "looked a lot like" a string of more than 10 bank robberies in the desert community this year, adding that "if we're able to make a tie-in to those other robberies, we'll add charges.... We'll have to wait for an investigation into all of the robberies before we can determine if these suspects carried out each of them."

Sheriff Bob Doyle said he believes the suspects will eventually be tied to the string of robberies.

"We've been working hard, setting up surveillances. One time, those guys knocked off a bank as we were doing a surveillance elsewhere," he said. "Those guys have gotten a lot of cash."

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