Suspected Bank Robber Leads Police On Wild Chase Through Southern California
(KTLA) — The driver in a high-speed pursuit that spanned four counties and lasted some 90 minutes was identified by authorities after the chased ended Thursday as the “Hills Bandit,” a man suspected in multiple Southern California bank robberies.
The Whittier Police Department, which initiated the chase Thursday morning, said 53-year-old Stephen Richard Bartlett was the fleeing motorist in a pursuit that ended in dramatic fashion with a crash off the side of the 210 Freeway.
Bartlett was wanted in a series of bank robberies in Orange County and Santa Barbara attributed to the “Hills Bandit,” according to Whittier police.
“No matter what amount of money he gets, it’s not enough — he’ll keep going,” FBI Special Agent Christopher Gicking said Sept. 9, a day after the bandit tried unsuccessfully to rob a La Jolla bank and then did steal from a Laguna Hills U.S. Bank branch.
Bartlett surrendered Thursday after the truck he was driving landed on its side in a cloud of dust after careening down an embankment near the Rialto-San Bernardino border (map).
The driver climbed out of the vehicle with his hands up, aerial video showed. Armed officers surrounded and cuffed him, then cautiously approached the vehicle with firearms raised at 1:07 p.m.
“We’re glad to see that this incident came to an end,” CHP Officer Travis Monks said. “Evading any police officer, that comes with a charge. Driving in the manner that he was driving, putting other people’s lives in danger, being evasive — that’s going to be an additional charge.”
The pursuit began after Whittier police were called about 10:15 a.m. to Fry Steel, a commercial steel business in Santa Fe Springs, where a fraud was alleged. A man had picked up a $12,000 order for steel, driving away with the metal in the back of a truck, which police attempted to halt.
The driver failed to stop and police pursued him through Santa Fe Springs, Whittier, La Habra and Brea. Early on, he threw a gun from the vehicle that was later found and described as a black semiautomatic replica, according to a Whittier police news release.
The driver traveled on the 57, 60 and 15 freeways and then onto the 215 Freeway, aerial video showed. Multiple agencies were in pursuit.
The motorist was wanted on suspicion of grand theft auto, California Highway Patrol Officer Tony Polizzi initially said.
The vehicle, labeled “United Rentals,” was similar to the type of truck used by landscaping businesses. The truck’s bed appeared mostly empty, holding only what looked like one or more long pieces of metal in a bundle.
After exiting the 215 Freeway in Riverside, the truck led officers through surface streets then re-entered the freeway going the wrong direction. It pulled a U-turn in the middle of lanes on the freeway at about 12:30 p.m.
At one point, a pursuing CHP patrol vehicle appeared to rear-end the truck after the truck hit a sedan head on while on city streets. It was not clear if that was a PIT maneuver that failed or if the truck and the CHP made impact.
As the pursuit passed the one-hour mark, the driver was going back and forth on the 215 Freeway in the area surrounding San Bernardino, exiting and then re-entering the freeway in the opposite direction.
By about 12:45 p.m., the Riverside Police Department had assumed control of the chase, according to CHP, which had taken over from Whittier police shortly after noon. The pursuit then ended west of the State Street exit on the westbound 210 Freeway when the driver crossed four lanes and drove down an embankment and into the dirt.
Several hours later, Whittier police identified the driver as Stephen Richard Bartlett, aka AR Bartlett. His driver’s license shows an address in Nevada, according to Whittier police.
He was treated for minor injuries at a hospital near the crash and was set to be booked into Whittier jail on suspicion of felony theft, felony evading, felony vehicle embezzlement, two hit-and-run collisions and numerous warrants including bank robbery.
KTLA’s Jennifer Thang and Mark Kono contributed to this article.