published Thursday, July 17th, 2014

3 dead after California bank robbery, gunbattle

STOCKTON, Calif. — Cars and houses were riddled with bullets during a high-speed chase and hostages were thrown from a fleeing SUV after a bank robbery Wednesday that led to the deaths of a hostage and two robbers, police said.

The violence began at 2 p.m. when officers responded to a call of a robbery at a Bank of the West branch in north Stockton. Arriving officers spotted three men walking three female hostages from the bank. The robbers stole a bank employee's SUV and a pursuit started, Stockton police Officer Joe Silva said.

During the chase that lasted 45 minutes and spanned several miles, one of the hostages was thrown from the SUV and was taken to a hospital with a gunshot wound, Silva said. The pursuit continued as gunfire continued to erupt from the SUV, he said. Police cars and homes along the robbers' path were peppered with gunshots.

"In my 18 year of law enforcement, I've never seen anything like this in the city of Stockton," Silva said, adding that no officers were injured.

A second hostage was later thrown from the vehicle, and officers tending to her found she had suffered a grazing bullet wound, Silva said.

As the SUV came to a stop, officers exchanged gunfire with someone inside the vehicle. When it was all over, a hostage and one of the robbers was dead, Silva said. Besides the first hostage thrown from the vehicle, at least two other people were hospitalized.

Police confirmed later Wednesday that one of the injured suspects died.

Witnesses said the shootout that brought the episode to a close looked like a war.

"It sounded like five minutes of straight gunfire," witness Sam York told KCRA-TV. "It seemed like it wasn't real."

Jose Maldonado, who said he saw the robbers taking the women out of the bank, said the men had rifles that looked like AK-47s slung over their shoulders and they didn't seem to care that there were police all around.

"They were not afraid. They weren't going to take no for an answer. These poor women, they were screaming, they were so distraught, so scared," Maldonado said.

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