Robbery, chase ends at mall

Dana Bartholomew

GLENDALE - A familiar-looking young man popped into a Burbank liquor store Monday, drew his gun and demanded money and five packs of cigarettes.

But what began as a routine robbery soon escalated into a dramatic tale of 110-mph freeway pursuits, daring escapes and worried mothers with strollers huddled next to SWAT teams at a luxurious outdoor shopping mall.

All ended well at the Americana at Brand in Glendale, where police arrested a total of three armed robbery suspects - the last eluding police for several hours after using his athletic prowess to lose officers. The excitement ended when a police dog was called in to sniff him out of a parking lot stairwell. Police did not release their names.

Scores of businesses were locked down, tying up hundreds of workers, shoppers and diners for hours. Some 60 officers from the Burbank and Glendale police departments searched for the missing suspect as other officers closed off a large block between Colorado Boulevard and Broadway.

Chun Lim and two volunteers promoting the "Shen Yun" spectacular at the Music Center this weekend were kicked out of a promotional booth by a Glendale SWAT team.

"I wasn't frightened," said Lim, of San Francisco, as choppers buzzed overhead. "But I thought, why is this happening?"

It all began with the 10:55 a.m. robbery at Glenmar Liquor at 2000 Glenoaks Blvd. Workers there were already edgy from a Jan. 22 robbery - apparently by the same suspect,

Burbank police Sgt. Robert Quesada said.

When the suspect showed up, some employees recognized him immediately.

"I told him, `Don't hurt me,"' said Paula, a Glenmar Liquor clerk and mother of three who is seven months pregnant. "I leave it up to God. I said, `In the name of El Padre, El Hijo y El Spiritu, protect me'," she said, declining to give her last name.

While the store owner was calling 911, the man escaped with an unknown amount of cash in the back of a compact sedan driven by a young woman and ferrying another male passenger, Quesada said. The men appeared to be about 18, the woman between 20 and 22.

Five police cars and a helicopter chased the vehicle up Sunland Boulevard, across the 210 Freeway, down Highway 2 and over the 134 Freeway. The robbery suspects' car screeched onto Colorado Boulevard in Glendale, turning left onto Orange Street and then crashing into a parked car, he said.

"We followed at 110 miles per hour," Quesada said, "weaving in an out of traffic."

Christina Gonzalez encountered the speeding Toyota on Sunland Boulevard near La Tuna Canyon Road in Sun Valley while on her way to work.

"She almost ran me over," Gonzalez said of the driver. "It's a miracle she didn't kill somebody."

After the Glendale car crash, police arrested a woman between the age of 20 and 22, as well as her passenger, a man about 18, Quesada said.

The robbery suspect bolted from the back seat, was bumped by a patrol car and tumbled over the hood before running toward the Americana at Brand mall with police in pursuit.

A witness saw him doff his black hoodie sweatshirt during a full sprint toward a parking garage.

"I saw him get out. I saw this guy run fast. The officers almost got him," said Norma Nielsen, 34, of Whittier. "He was as agile as a soccer player. He really could run, quick on his feet. ... He should have joined an athletic team, a soccer team, instead of being a robber."

But he was no match for the dog.

"The moment (the suspect) put his foot on the ground ... it was able to do a hard-surface tracking," said Glendale police Sgt. Tom Lorenz. "The dog followed the scent.

"Our main concern, of course, was he was armed and dangerous, had committed a series of robberies (up to five) and did not want to be caught. Our concern was the safety of the customers and employees."

Police said that the suspect's gun was never found.

Americana at Brand remained closed for hours after the suspect was caught while police searched the mall for evidence.

Quesada said the suspects' homes were still being searched for evidence.

The three women inside Glenmar Liquor had seen the robber before, saying they had seen him rob the store in person on Jan. 22 or on security videotape that captured that robbery.

The shaggy-haired man squeezed through the same grocery racks, hands in his pockets, before drawing what was allegedly the same pistol at Paula.

"He said, `I'm not going to hurt you, just give me the money'," Paula said. "He asked me for five packs of cigarettes, and I gave him a whole carton of Camels."

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