3 Dead After Stockton Bank Robbery, Gunbattle

Robbers fleeing a Stockton, California, bank on Wednesday took three women hostage and threw two of them from their getaway vehicle, as they fired repeatedly at police during a high-speed chase.

Police shot out their tires but the shooting continued, fatally wounding two suspects and the last hostage.

Stockton police officer Joe Silva said the violence erupted at 2 p.m. when officers responded to a report of a robbery at a Bank of the West branch in north Stockton.

The call came from a security officer who managed to phone authorities before being tied up, police said at a late Wednesday presser. Arriving officers spotted three men exiting the building with three female hostages, 2 bank employees and 1 bank customer.

The robbers stole a bank employee's SUV and a pursuit started, Silva said.

Cellphone footage taken by a driver captured the moments when more than a dozen police cars were in pursuit of the bank robbers.

During the chase that lasted 45 minutes and spanned several miles, one of the hostages jumped or was thrown from the SUV and was taken to a hospital with a gunshot wound, Silva said. She is expected to survive, police said.

The pursuit continued as gunfire continued to erupt from the SUV, Silva said. The suspects held large amounts of ammunition, with some firearm magazines taped or strapped to their bodies, police said.

At least 14 police cars and sveral homes along the robbers' path were peppered with gunshots.

"In my 18 years of law enforcement, I've never seen anything like this in the city of Stockton,'' Silva said, adding that no officers were injured.

At about an hour into the pursuit, a second hostage was later thrown from the vehicle while the SUV was traveling at a high rate of speed, and officers tending to her found she had suffered a grazing bullet wound, police said. She is expected to live as well, police said.

About 2 minutes later, the SUV came to a stop and officers exchanged gunfire with someone inside the vehicle, police said. When it was all over, the third hostage was found dead in the SUV and one of the robbers was also dead. The police chief said the hostage was a bank customer, and that she appears to have been used by the suspects as a shield during the shootout.

Police said the other two suspects were taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds, and one of them later died.

Witnesses said the shootout that brought the episode to a close looked like a war.

"I could see the car getting blasted,” witness Manuel Gallegos said. "I can see all the little sparks and everything off the car, and actually there was a police car right in front of our house shooting in that direction.”

Jose Maldonado, who said he saw the robbers taking the women out of the bank, said the men had rifles that looked like AK-47s slung over their shoulders and they didn't seem to care that there were police all around.

"They were not afraid. They weren't going to take no for an answer. These poor women, they were screaming, they were so distraught, so scared,'' Maldonado said.

The other surviving suspect was taken into police custody, police told NBC affiliate KCRA.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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