Authorities Friday were investigating whether a robber who crashed his vehicle in a gully at the end of a police pursuit in Riverside on Thursday, causing a brush fire, is the same man wanted in a series of restaurant robberies in Orange County.
The serial robber is wanted in more than a dozen robberies in Orange County -- most recently including a Pizza Hut in Santa Ana and Subway in Orange on Wednesday.
Thursday afternoon's robbery was of a Riverside Carl's Jr. in the area of Magnolia Avenue and Ross Street. The robbery was reported shortly after 4 p.m.
The man believed to be responsible, described only as an adult male, fled the location with an accomplice immediately after the holdup, but witnesses were able to provide 911 dispatchers with a description of the getaway car, which was spotted minutes later by a patrol officer near the intersection of Indiana Avenue and Jefferson Street.
The patrolman successfully stopped the car, and the driver appeared to initially comply with his commands, but then he floored it, speeding away eastbound with the officer in pursuit, according to Riverside Police Officer Ryan Railsback.
The chase eventually reached the Mission Grove area of the city, where the suspected robber ended up on two-lane roads running through hills, losing control on a dead end and plummeting into the gully, where the vehicle caught fire, according to reports from the scene.
He attempted to flee on foot but was quickly apprehended. He suffered minor injuries and was transported to Riverside Community Hospital for treatment.
His alleged accomplice remains at large.
The crash triggered a brush fire that threatened several homes until it was knocked down. The blaze broke out about 4:50 p.m. Thursday in the area of Mountain House and Kingdom drives, according to the Riverside Fire Department.
Multiple engine crews deployed to the location to protect several houses at the end of Mountain House, as well as on the south side of Kingdom.
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The fire consumed just under an acre and was declared fully contained by 5:15 p.m.
On Wednesday, Garden Grove police identified the following robberies that are believed connected to the suspect:
- CN Wireless, 10181 Westminster Ave., about noon on July 11;
- Wendy's restaurant, 10040 Chapman Ave., about 10:30 p.m. July 13.
- Pizza Hut, 10092 Westminster Ave., about 10:30 p.m. July 14;
- McDonald's, 9852 Westminster Ave., about 1:55 p.m. July 15;
- Subway restaurant, 13961 Harbor Blvd., about 10 p.m. July 20;
- Taco Bell restaurant, 8511 Westminster Ave., about 2:50 p.m. July 22;
- Pizza Hut, 10072 Chapman Ave., about 8:40 p.m. July 22; and
- McDonald's, 3099 S. Bristol, Costa Mesa, July 25.
In all the reported robberies, the man demanded cash and flashed a weapon from his waistband, said Costa Mesa police Lt. Greg Scott.
Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said the robber has been linked to three other armed robberies in that city, including a Jack in the Box at 820 N. Harbor Blvd. about 8:30 p.m. Monday. He donned a wig to hold up an El Pollo Loco at 101 S. Harbor Blvd., and also robbed a McDonald's at 666 S. Harbor Blvd. in heists on July 17 and 18, Bertagna said.
In Orange, a Del Taco restaurant at 1301 E. Katella Ave. was robbed last Thursday about 9:15 p.m., said Sgt. Phil McMullen. The suspect is also suspected of a hold-up at a Chipotle restaurant at 16241 Beach Blvd. in Huntington Beach about 9:40 p.m. Monday.
Garden Grove police described the suspect as a Latino man about 25 to 30 years old and 6-feet-2 inches tall, with a medium build, short black hair and facial hair.