The recovery of a stolen unmarked police cruiser ended a 30-hour-plus manhunt that stretched from the Santa Cruz Mountains to San Jose, and led to three dramatic arrests on Friday in connection with a Scotts Valley bank robbery the day before.
Based on early evidence, Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies say they are "very confident" that the primary suspect — who robbed a Bank of America on Thursday wearing a black mask, and then led CHP officers and sheriff's deputies on a massive, hours-long manhunt through the Santa Cruz Mountains that shut down Highway 17 — is among those in custody.
S/O Community, please rest assured. Our detectives are very confident we have the SV robbery suspect in our custody based on early evidence. pic.twitter.com/3ZnSgclYo1 — SantaClaraCoSheriff (@SCCoSheriff) January 28, 2017
Santa Clara County Sheriff's deputies said that the suspect stole an unmarked car from the Redwood Estates area, described as a 2009 Silver Chevy Malibu with California license plate number 3QWI051. Sources told NBC Bay Area that residents in rural Los Gatos and Scotts Valley were told that authorities believe the suspects left the area in a stolen police cruiser.
Friday's chase began around 2:30 p.m. when San Jose police officers spotted the vehicle in question near an apartment complex on Mission Street. One man who was seated in the car took off running, forcing officers to shut down Taylor Street.
"He chose to flee officers into a complex and we surrounded it, and sealed it off so he couldn't escape," said Lt. Jason Dwyer with the San Jose Police Department.
The man crossed nearby train tracks and hid on a construction site, winded and missing one shoe, but officers armed with rifles, aggressively searched for him on land and by air.
"When we tried to take him into custody, one officer had to deploy a Taser to take him down," Dwyer said.
It was initially believed that this was the primary robbery suspect. However, law enforcement sources clarified that the suspect was only an accomplice.
Two other occupants of the car were also taken into custody, but details of their arrests have not been disclosed. Police said the suspects were being interrogated separately so they didn't have a chance to get their stories straight.
Robbery suspect stole a vehicle from the Redwood Estates area. 2009 Silver Chevy Malibu (CA License #3QWI051) L.E. unmarked, similar to pic. pic.twitter.com/rwXT5zhiBE — SantaClaraCoSheriff (@SCCoSheriff) January 27, 2017
On Friday, the search and ensuing perimeter snarled traffic in downtown San Jose and forced police officers to order people in their homes to shelter in place, while denying entry to others who tried returning to their residences.
When police officers burst into his San Jose neighborhood, resident Michael Bunnell said he was "concerned for the safety of the people" who, like him, called the area home.
"I came out, I was walking down the corridor. There were two officers by the park on 7th Street that flagged me down and they had their guns pointed at me, told me to put up my hands, so I did, of course," he recalled.
On late Thursday night, Santa Clara County Sheriff's Sgt. Rich Glennon said the man thought to be the main suspect broke into a woman's home in Los Gatos, took a hunting knife and stole her burgundy minivan, which was towed away early Friday morning from where he allegedly ditched it.
Glennon said that deputies responded to a 911 call about 11:30 p.m. on Thursday from residents at Aldercroft Heights and Locust Drive, just south of Lexington Reservoir, who may have seen him, sheriff's officials said. The woman told deputies that the man had also stolen some clothes — a green beanie, a teal San Jose Sharks shirt, black and white shoes and blue gloves.
And then he got away.
Matthew Troquato came face to face with him.
“I came around the turn, the guy is between me and the cops, and they're out there with their guns, so I was just looking down the barrels of their guns and tried to get out of there as quickly as possible,” he said.
Highway 17 was closed for more than nine hours earlier Thursday as a slew of Bay Area law enforcement agencies searched for the robbery suspect in the rural community of Redwood Estates in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The suspect reportedly hit several cars while evading police, but his car failed him at Redwood Estates, prompting him to ditch it and run on foot into the nearby densely wooded area.
A sheriff's deputy fired shots at the suspect during the course of the incident, sheriff's Sgt. Rich Glennon said. It is unclear whether the suspect was hit, and no deputies have been injured.
The search started sometime before 10:50 a.m., which is when sheriff's officials locked down Lexington Elementary School, located off Highway 17 north of Redwood Estates.
The school's principal was told to keep students inside, and parents were not allowed to pick up their children until further notice, according to Los Gatos Union School District Superintendent Diana Abbati.
The lockdown, which was called off around 2 p.m., scared parents.
"I was shaking," said Iris Phillip.
Her second-grader son Max, however, deemed the experience "pretty exciting."
On Friday, Troquato and other South Bay residents, who were stunned to find themselves smack in the middle of a 30-hour-plus manhunt, said they were happy sheriff’s deputies say they have their man.
“My mom's at ease, and there are other neighbors, women that live alone that are at ease now,” he said.
On Saturday, sheriff's officials said that other law enforcement agencies are keen to explore whether the primary suspect is behind other bank robberies in the Bay Area. The suspects will not be identified immediately, they said, as the investigation is ongoing.