Chase driver identified as 'Hills Bandit' bank robbery suspect

RIALTO, Calif. (KABC) -- The driver of a stake-bed truck led police on a wild high-speed pursuit through several Southland cities for about an hour and a half on Thursday afternoon. After being arrested, police determined the man is a wanted serial bank-robbery suspect.

A commercial steel business in Santa Fe Springs reported possible fraud involving a $12,000 order of steel to Whittier Police at about 10:15 a.m. Police officers arrived and attempted to stop the driver who had picked up the order of steel in his truck. The driver failed to stop and a police pursuit was initiated.

The chase proceeded from Santa Fe Springs and went through Whittier, La Habra and Brea. Whittier Police chased the suspect northbound on the 57 Freeway, then to the eastbound 60 Freeway. CHP took over the pursuit in the area of the 60 and Central. At one point, the suspect, who was wanted for grand theft auto, drove the wrong way on the 215 Freeway in the Riverside area.

Police said the suspect, identified as 53-year-old Stephen Richard Bartlett, threw a gun from the vehicle in Santa Fe Springs. Police recovered the gun, which was found to be a replica.

At one point Bartlett stopped the truck on a freeway and tried to jump a fence, but decided to get back into the truck and continue driving.

The driver hit a wall and lost control of the truck on the westbound 210 Freeway in Rialto, causing the truck to go airborne and land on its side. He did not appear to suffer any major injuries. The suspect, who appeared dazed, climbed out of the vehicle and surrendered to authorities. He was then taken into custody without incident.

RAW VIDEO: Chase suspect crashes on 210 Freeway in Rialto


Bartlett was hospitalized with minor injuries after Thursday's pursuit.

"We are extremely fortunate that no one was seriously injured, including the suspect, due to the type of vehicle he was driving, the weight and the size of it, the speeds in which he was traveling, and the amount of commuter traffic we have out here today," said CHP Officer Brian Alvarez. "We're extremely lucky that no one was seriously hurt or killed."

Bartlett was booked for felony theft, felony evading, felony vehicle embezzlement, two hit-run collisions and numerous warrants, including bank robbery.

It was later determined that Bartlett was wanted for a series of up to 10 bank robberies in Santa Barbara, Orange County and San Diego attributed to the "Hills Bandit," according to the FBI.

PHOTOS: High-speed chase ends in Rialto


The "Hills Bandit" is linked to robberies dating back to May in Orange and San Diego counties, including one at a U.S. Bank in Laguna Niguel in which he passed a note demanding cash and threatened a weapon. He also attempted to rob a Union Bank in La Jolla the same day.

The 'Hills Bandit' is seen at a bank in Lake Forest on July 25, 2014.

The 'Hills Bandit' is seen at a bank in Lake Forest on July 25, 2014.



The "Hills Bandit" is also wanted for robberies at Cal Bank & Trust in San Diego on Aug. 25, Wells Fargo in Laguna Niguel on Aug. 22, U.S. Bank in Laguna Hills on Aug. 8, U.S. Bank in Carlsbad on Aug. 5, Citibank in Lake Forest on July 25, Citibank in Laguna Hills on July 16, and Wells Fargo in Laguna Hills on May 6.

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