SANTA FE SPRINGS >> A man who led police on a wild chase from Santa Fe Springs to Rialto that lasted more than an hour is believed to be a serial bank robbery linked to nine heists and attempted heists in Orange and San Diego counties, authorities said.
Stephen Richard Bartlett, 53, was arrested on suspicion of numerous crimes following the chase, which began about 10:15 a.m. outside a Santa Fe Springs steel business, Whittier police Lt. Bryan Ellis said.
Following his arrest, which took place after he crashed a stolen 1-ton utility truck off the side of the 219 Freeway in Rialto, investigators determined that Bartlett is a suspect known to the FBI as the “Hills Bandit,” sought for eight bank robberies and one failed bank robbery since may, Ellis said.
Bartlett was taken to a hospital to be treatment for minor injuries suffered in the crash before being booked on suspicion of felony theft, felony evading, vehicle embezzlement and two counts of hit-and-run, police officials said in a written statement. The parolee, who has an address listed in Nevada, was also being held on several warrants, including ones for bank robbery.
Thursday’s chase began when officers responded to Fry Steel Co., 13325 Molette Street, about 10:15 a.m. after receiving a report of a possible fraud involving the purchase of $12,000 worth of steel by a man later identified as Bartlett.
“As the suspect left the business with the product in the back of a 1-ton stake truck, Whittier Police officers arrived and attempted to make a traffic stop,” according to the police statement. But the truck continued on, and the driver threw what was later found to be a replica handgun from the truck.
The truck led officers through Santa Fe Springs, Whittier, La Habra and Break before getting onto the westbound 60 Freeway, where Whittier police turned the pursuit over to the California Highway Patrol.
The pursuit continued west on the 60 Freeway, with the truck driving erratically and at times on the wrong side of the road as it made its way onto the westbound 210 Freeway.
The fleeing truck collided with a CHP car and a civilian vehicle during the chase, resulting in minor injuries to a CHP officer and a civilian, CHP Officer Bruan Alvarez said in a written statement.
After well over an hour, the truck struck the right shoulder wall along the 210 Freeway in Rialto and went out of control before striking a dirt embankment and overturning, Alvarez said. Bartlett climbed out of the truck and surrendered to officials.
The most recent crimes attributed to the “Hills Bandit” occurred Sept. 8, when he robbed a Laguna Niguel U.S. Bank branch and tried, but failed, to rob a La Jolla Union Bank, according to FBI spokeswoman Emily Yeh.
He previously robbed a San Diego Cal Bank & Trust on Aug. 25; a Laguna Niguel Wells Fargo on Aug. 22; a Laguna Hills U.S. Bank on Aug. 8; a Carlsbad U.S. Bank on Aug. 5; A Lake Forest Citibank on July 25; a Laguna Hills Citibank on July 16; and a Laguna Hills Wells Fargo on May 6, FBI officials said.
*PHOTO: The “Hills Bandit,” is pictured in this surveillance photo during a robbery at a Union Bank in San Diego on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. The suspect, linked to nine bank robberies and attempted bank robberies, was arrested Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014, after a lengthy police chase that led from Santa Fe Springs to Rialto. (Courtesy of the FBI)