A police pursuit of a suspected serial bank robber ended today with two dead in a high-speed, head-on collision on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
The suspect and another car’s driver were killed instantly in the crash, which happened at 2:24 p.m. near Casino Arizona, on McKellips Road west of Dobson Road.
According to authorities, the suspect is believed responsible for four robberies throughout the East Valley, including a stickup in Tempe Tuesday. FBI investigators said the suspect’s dark-colored Nissan Altima fits the description of the getaway vehicle used in the other crimes.
The incident began around 1:50 p.m. at a Bank of America branch, 1820 E. Warner Road in Tempe, when a man showed a weapon and then fled with an undisclosed amount of money.
An intermittent chase ensued through a number of East Valley cities and the suspect exited Loop 101 at McKellips, Arizona Department of Public Safety Cmdr. Tom Woodward said. The Altima’s speeds reached 90 mph, authorities said.
Video taken by ABC 15 News shows the Altima heading eastbound on McKellips, steering left into the oncoming lanes and striking a white Toyota Supra. Seconds later, at least two police cruisers stopped at the collision.
About 30 officers from DPS, Tempe Police and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Police Department converged on the crash scene as four helicopters hovered over the area.
“This is a tragedy,” Tempe police spokesman Sgt. Mike Horn said. “Somebody lost their life because of this.”
In a nearby mobile home, 10-year-old Dion Hernandez was watching cartoons when he heard the cars’ impact.
“It sounded like a gunshot,” Hernandez said.
When Hernandez looked out the window, he said he saw smoke coming from a white car that looked like it had flipped over.
“This was the second time a wreck like this has happened on our road, but not as bad as this one,” Hernandez said.
Woodward said DPS would conduct a thorough review of the pursuit to see if policies were followed, but refused to comment further.
Investigating the incident are the Salt River and Tempe police, DPS and the FBI.
This is the second incident in a week in which a police pursuit ended in death.
On Nov. 27, a motorcyclist crashed and died in Gilbert following a four-mile chase with Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies. Authorities said they saw Dennis Hester, 20, of Queen Creek speeding, and when they tried to stop him he bolted.
The four bank robberies are connected by a single suspect, dressed in a dark ski mask, dark shirt and dark gloves wielding a dark semi-automatic pistol and demanding cash, FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson said.
The three banks struck previously were:
•Nov. 20 – Washington Mutual, 2001 N. Arizona Avenue in Chandler.
•Nov. 24 – Wachovia, 1305 S. Alma School Road in Mesa.
•Monday – Wachovia, 1305 S. Alma School Road in Mesa.
Nobody was injured during the robberies.
Also, Johnson said, witnesses described the robber’s getaway vehicle as a newer model four-door Nissan sedan.
The Altima involved in the crash fits that description, and its driver was armed.
McKellips Road east of the 101 to Dobson Road was closed and was expected to be shut down for several hours as officers investigated the scene.
Coincidentally, about an hour before Wednesday’s robbery in Tempe, there was a multi-vehicle wreck in Chandler when burglary suspects bailed out of their getaway SUV at a busy intersection. Five people were injured, one seriously.
It is not known whether the suspects were caught.
Tribune reporter Mike Branom contributed to this story.