Three bank robbers in a Subaru sedan outran nearly 30 local, state and federal police cruisers during a high-speed chase through Baltimore and Washington suburbs yesterday, tossing stolen tens and twenties out the window as they sped down Interstate 95.
"This guy was just driving like a maniac; there is no other way to put it," said Maryland State Police Sgt. William Hayes, who was involved in the pursuit, which reached speeds in excess of 110 mph.
At one point, some police cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring raced more than 30 miles around the Capital Beltway, through Montgomery County and Northern Virginia before the officers realized the robbers had shaken them back in Silver Spring.
But what started out as an intricately staged holdup of a Roland Park NationsBank, in which the masked gunmen had made a successful getaway, ended hours later in much simpler fashion.
One of the suspects called police.
City police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr. said the 22-year-old man, who had not been charged last night, tried to "create an alibi for himself" by claiming his car had been stolen.
Police believe he parked the silver 1993 Subaru Legacy in front of his Dickeyville apartment, then called 911 to report that his car had been mysteriously returned.
"His facts simply didn't add up," Weinhold said, and police took him to police headquarters downtown for questioning.
They were awaiting a judge's approval to search his apartment.
Last night, five people were spotted along the side of I-95 searching for discarded money.
"It was a bad week, and I was hoping that I would get lucky," said one man who refused to give his name.
He didn't find any.
Cars and helicopters
The 33-mile police chase started in Northwest Baltimore about 10: 15 a.m. and wound its way along several local streets before hitting I-95.
A city police helicopter followed the car's twists and turns before it ran low on fuel and had to turn back.
A state police helicopter picked up the aerial surveillance on I-95.
By the time police lost the car at the Colesville Road exit in Silver Spring, officers from eight jurisdictions driving everything from Ford Crown Victorias to Geo Trackers had joined the chase.
The pursuit "involved anybody and everybody," said Special Agent Peter A. Gulotta Jr. of the FBI. Police said they were amazed that no one was injured and nobody crashed.
"When the necessity for apprehension outweighs the risk, we will pursue," said Howard County Police Lt. Carl Layman.
Bank robberies have been a concern for years in Maryland, which in 1996 was ranked third in the nation, with 378.
Last year in Baltimore alone, 254 banks were robbed, according to FBI statistics. Baltimore's bank robbery record was set in 1993 with 334 holdups.
It prompted a meeting last year of federal prosecutors and local bank managers to devise new strategies. Only 46 banks have been robbed this year, and the FBI says arrests have been made in 35 of the cases.
But most bank holdups in Baltimore are committed by a lone man seeking money for drugs and armed only with a threatening note. He typically gets no more than $3,000, federal officials say.
The FBI declined to comment on how much money was taken yesterday, but officers indicated it was a substantial amount.
NationsBank officials declined to comment.
Customers and people who work in the area said yesterday's holdup was frightening. The bank is on a tree-lined street in a brick shopping center near a church.
"I'm shocked," said Loretta Hobbs, a private-duty nurse who goes to the NationsBank branch every Friday to cash her paycheck. "It's mostly elderly people in this area."
She was not in the bank when it was held up yesterday.
Potted plant disguise
Baltimore police say the robbery occurred about 9: 30 a.m. when a man wearing tan or off-white overalls walked into the lobby carrying a potted plant, apparently pretending to make a delivery. He put the plant down, drew a handgun and ordered 10 employees and customers to drop to the floor.
Two other similarly dressed men also brandishing handguns then burst into the bank, and all three covered their faces with stocking masks. Two of them jumped over the counter and emptied drawers full of money into duffel bags.
"Basicly, they took the whole bank over," Gulotta said. "They obviously had a detailed plan to rob this bank, and they didn't have a lot of regard for the safety of others."
Police said robbers spent only a few minutes inside, then drove away in a stolen tan Honda Accord, which was found about 10: 15 a.m. abandoned in the 2400 block of Loyola Southway in Park Heights.
A witness reported seeing the men get into the Subaru, and a spotter in a police helicopter saw the car a few minutes later on Reisterstown Road.
The car drove along several local streets before getting on Russell Street near the University of Maryland Medical Center, and then onto Interstate 395 and I-95.
Maryland State Police spokesman Pete Piringer said troopers joined the chase on southbound I-95 when the car turned off on Route 100 in Elkridge.
He said the car sped west to U.S. 1, went south, and then got back onto the interstate via Route 175.
At Route 32, police said the suspects threw money out the window of the speeding car, possibly in an attempt to lose a small transmitter that police hide between stacks of bills to track the route of stolen money.
Police declined to comment on whether the transmitter was used.
The spectacle prompted motorists and police to stop and
retrieve the money from the grass and prickly underbrush along the side of the road.
Officers briefly shut down the southbound lanes of the highway to avoid looting.
Four or five motorists picked up about $450 and turned it in to Baltimore Sgt. Steve Cothern. "They were handing money back to us as we were driving by," he said.
Meanwhile, police continued to chase the Subaru, which got onto westbound Interstate 495, the Capital Beltway, sometimes speeding along the paved shoulder and other times dodging in and out of traffic on the congested four-lane highway that loops around Washington.
Traffic caused the closest troopers to briefly lose sight of the car, which took a quick exit onto Colesville Road in Silver Spring.
The trooper leading the pursuit overshot the exit and had to go the wrong way up the next one, passing the suspect's car as it came in the opposite direction.
"The suspect vehicle made a number of elusive moves on Colesville Road, back onto and off of the Beltway," Piringer said. "The trooper was not able to catch up to the vehicle."
Piringer said he was not sure whether the state police helicopter was overhead when the car got onto Colesville Road. He said troopers blanketed the area but could not locate the suspects.
Other police cruisers continued to speed along the Beltway's outer loop into Northern Virginia.
Piringer said most troopers realized they no longer were pursuing the car while they were in Virginia, but civilian radio traffic updates reported police cruisers speeding over I-495's Woodrow Wilson Bridge, some 30 miles past the Colesville Road exit.
Car in Dickeyville
Police reported no progress until about 5 p.m., when someone called them and reported seeing a car matching the Subaru's description parked outside an apartment building in the 5000 block of Dickey Hill Road in West Baltimore.
Undercover officers staked out the car. Meanwhile, spokesman Weinhold said, the 22-year-old man called 911 and told operators his car had been stolen earlier in the day but had been returned.
Weinhold said the man was taken into custody, but the police spokesman would not reveal other details of who owned the car or what, if anything, was found inside.
Pub Date: 9/19/98