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Cold cash slows hot pursuit

This image from KNBC-TV shows bank robbery suspects tossing out money during a police pursuit Wednesday. (Associated Press)
This image from KNBC-TV shows bank robbery suspects tossing out money during a police pursuit Wednesday. (Associated Press)

LOS ANGELES – Even in the land of police chases, it was a wild ride.

A pair of bank robbery suspects Wednesday led cops on a bizarre, dangerous pursuit, hurling fistfuls of stolen cash from their car in a failed getaway bid that sent hundreds of people scrambling into the path of oncoming police cars as they lunged after the flying bills.

Although it was almost certainly a self-serving gambit meant to slow their pursuers, the robbery suspects’ decision to share the loot in such brazen fashion made them instant heroes to many in the impoverished South L.A. neighborhoods where the chase came to an end.

“It’s our neighborhood stimulus package!” laughed Diane Dorsey, who watched the bedlam unfold from her front yard.

“Kids were smiling like it was Christmas,” added a neighbor, who gave only his first name, Desean.

The made-for-Hollywood chase began 40 miles to the north in Santa Clarita, when four armed men held up a Bank of America branch shortly after 10 a.m. and fled in a black Volvo SUV that had been reported stolen hours earlier, police said. Deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department quickly located the suspects and began to pursue them. Shortly after the chase began, two of the men bailed from the vehicle in an attempt to escape on foot but were taken into custody, said Capt. Mike Parker, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department.

The two remaining suspects continued on, jumping from freeways to streets and back again as they wound their way through the San Gabriel Valley and Pasadena and onward toward the skyline of downtown Los Angeles.

People trying to outrun police commonly gravitate to neighborhoods familiar to them, and the driver Wednesday appeared to act no differently. Leaving downtown, he looped west to MacArthur Park, then past the University of Southern California campus until arriving in South L.A., where the Volvo had been stolen.

Up to this point, the chase had followed the script of countless others before it in Los Angeles, where police pursuits pass as televised entertainment captured in real time by ubiquitous news helicopters.

But then, as the men sped through congested residential neighborhoods with more than a dozen Sheriff’s Department vehicles in pursuit and a police helicopter tracking them overhead, the windows in the back seat of the SUV went down. A hand grasping a wad of bills emerged and let go, sending the money fluttering to the pavement.

As he continued tossing the mix of 100s, 50s, 20s and lower denominations in intermittent bursts, people in the area left their televisions and took to the curbs. Sheriff’s deputies were forced to slow and swerve to avoid hitting people.

“It’s a true blessing if no one was seriously hurt,” Parker said.

With so many people following their escapade, the streets became congested with cars and pedestrians. As they tried to navigate along a clogged street, the SUV became trapped behind a truck. Sheriff’s deputies jumped from their vehicles with guns drawn, swarmed the Volvo and yanked the suspects out. The identities of the suspects have not been released, and police declined to say how much money had been stolen from the bank.