1992 bank robbery foiled by SLO County geography

Posted by David Middlecamp on September 24, 2013 

Martin Martinez Barajas is arrested on Los Osos Valley Road after a bank robbery in San Luis Obispo. The San Luis Obispo County sheriff deputies are Brian Hascall on the left (now a sheriff's commander) and Keith Scott on the right (now a sheriff's sergeant). Reporters David Eddy and Danna Dykstra appear to be standing behind the deputies.

ROBERT DYER — Telegram-Tribune Buy Photo

A sloppy Cuesta student inadvertently kept it from being a clean getaway.

In 1992, San Luis Obispo police Officer Victor Nunez was at a call about a student who left out trash when the radio crackled with the report of a bank robbery.

It would be minutes before full backup would arrive. Nunez saw two men running from La Cumbre Savings Bank with bags of money and guns.

Ordered to stop, the robbers raised their weapons.

In the darkening winter evening, gunfire was exchanged.

Time, not money, is the most precious thing to a bank thief. Time to blend in with the crowd and get away.

Unfortunately for bank robbers, San Luis Obispo County is not designed for efficient getaways. A single freeway and single highway running north-south and a handful of highways going east-west. A lot of roads dead-end at the ocean or mountains.

These criminals were not students of geography.

Later, at trial, defense attorney Ken Cirisan said: "In an area that you can go north and south, they went west."

A lot has changed since 1992.

If a criminal is armed, it is more likely to be with a faster-shooting, higher-capacity, clip-fed automatic. Most law enforcement has upgraded from the six-shooter revolver as well.

Photos and information can now be shared quickly via the Internet, cell phones speed communication, and a helicopter is often available for tracking.

Makes you wonder why anyone thinks robbing a bank is a good career option.

Danna Dykstra Coy wrote this for the Telegram-Tribune on Jan 25, 1992:

Shots fired in bank robbery
One suspect wounded in SLO shootout

One man was captured and two others remained at large Friday night following a San Luis Obispo bank robbery in which one suspect was shot during an exchange of gunfire in a shopping center parking lot.

In an ensuing chase by police to Montaña de Oro State Park, one man's car was stolen and two other men assaulted.

A helicopter with a heat-detecting device, canine units from Arroyo Grande and Atascadero police departments and hordes of officers from various police agencies were brought in to help search for the suspects.

Police believed the two fled into thick brush around 6 p.m. at the state park, San Luis Obispo Police Capt. Bart Topham said late Friday. The men's getaway car, allegedly stolen midway through the case on Los Osos Valley Road en route to Montaña de Oro, was found Friday night just inside the state park, according to police.

Shortly before midnight, police were waiting for the temperature to drop to use an infrared, heat-detecting device to search for the suspects.

Police believe the suspects may be linked to some bank robberies in Santa Barbara County, according to San Luis Obispo police Detective Craig Gill.

One of the suspects was described as a black man between 18 and 20 years old, 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighing 140 pounds. He was last seen wearing an army jacket.

The other suspect is a Hispanic man, also between 18 and 20 years old, 6 feet, 2 inches tall and about 160 pounds.

The ground search was called off because of darkness and difficult terrain, but was expected to continue at daybreak, said police.

Topham didn't know Friday night whether campers had been evacuated from the park, but he said the area was sealed off.

The continuing drama began around 5 p.m. when two men wearing ski masks entered La Cumbre Savings Bank at 1360 Madonna Rd. with their guns drawn, according to Topham.

Witnesses said they saw the men leave the bank with white bags, but Topham couldn't confirm whether the suspects got away with any money.

An officer happened to be in the parking lot at the time because neighbors had called police to the nearby home of a Cuesta College student for leaving his trash out.

The officer, whom Topham declined to name Friday night, was in front of Longs Drugs when the two men came running straight toward him, according to Topham, "but they didn't even see him."

As the suspects got closer, the officer noticed they both had guns, Topham said. He ordered them to stop and drop their weapons.

"Instead they exchanged gunfire," Topham said.

The two men then hopped over a wall behind Longs Drugs and sped away in a black Chevrolet Blazer, he said.

Police got the first vehicle description from a citizen who called in to report the black Blazer leaving the neighborhood behind Longs at a high speed.

The officer involved in the gunfight was not injured, Topham said, but there is evidence that at least one of the suspects was shot.

Jim Harding, a 27-year-old Cuesta College student who lives behind Longs Drugs, said he was standing outside his house talking to the officer about the same time the robbery was taking place.

Minutes after the officer left, Harding said he was inside his house when he heard a police public address system telling the neighborhood residents to stay inside their homes.

"So I came back outside to see what was going on," Harding said.

He said he didn't see any shooting, but a bullet went through his next-door neighbor's window.

"If (the officer) hadn't gotten the call — hadn't been in our area — he wouldn't have gotten that guy," said Harding.

Police blocked of[f] Madonna Road at Los Osos Valley Road after the robbery, causing traffic to back up all the way to Highway 101.

Police also cordoned off Royal Way at Cucaracha Court, turning back residents of the neighborhood who were on their way home from work.

One of the suspects, whose name was not available Friday night, was arrested around 5:30 following a chase on Los Osos Valley Road that involved a number of police agencies.

The man was stopped in the Blazer, east of Buckskin Drive, but the other two suspects were gone, according to police.

A gun and some rolled change were inside the Blazer.

Traces of blood were also found inside the vehicle, according to witnesses at the scene.

Police suspect the other two escaped midway through the chase in a white Toyota Tercel.

A man stopped on Los Osos Valley Road at Turri Road was allegedly pulled from his Tercel by two men, who drove off in the car and left him stranded, according to a motorist who offered the victim a ride after he saw him looking distressed on the side of the road.

"He was an older guy who was in a panic," said the Good Samaritan, who declined to give his name.

"He said he was a psychiatrist at California Men's Colony who moved to the area a year ago because he thought it was so nice and safe," said the man.

He said he dropped the man off at a shopping center off Los Osos Valley Road so he could call someone.

The motorist then returned to the scene of the arrest, where the suspect was lying face down in the street with his hands cuffed behind his back.

The returning motorist wanted to give officers information about the victim so they could contact him.

In the meantime, witnesses spotted the remaining two suspects in the Tercel allegedly traveling at high speeds west on Los Osos Valley Road.

The two pulled into the Valley Liquor parking lot off 10th Street. In an apparent effort to dump the Tercel, witnesses said the suspects attempted to steal two cars from the parking lot.

They allegedly told a man who pulled into the parking lot behind them to give them his blue Pinto.

"One of them, a black man, approached me and said, 'This is an emergency, give me your car,'" Frank Brady said after giving deputies his statement in the liquor store parking lot. "I told him no."

Then the suspect said he had a gun, and Brady saw it.

"I told him, 'You can have it.'"

But the Pinto kept stalling, so the suspects got frustrated, said Brady.

One got back in the Tercel and the other approached another man in the parking lot, asking him for his car.

The second victim, Gary Colman, said he refused repeatedly to give up his car, so the suspect jerked him out, ripping his shirt and causing this head to bang on the car door, said Colman.

The altercation apparently made the suspect nervous, said Colman, because he ran to the waiting Tercel, which sped out of the parking lot and headed for Montaña de Oro State Park.

—Susan McDonald contributed to this report.

It was a cold night with lows in the 30s, at the state park.

The first suspect was arrested at 1 a.m. when he walked into the arms of waiting FBI agents who had been keeping a low profile on the road with State Park rangers and some 60 officers from various agencies.

Police had to deal with other masked bandits at the unprocessed crime scene. Curious Montaña de Oro raccoons tried to climb in the open stolen car and had to be shooed from the area.

Six hours later the second suspect was found lying just 10 yards from where the searchers were gathered.

As Jan Greene wrote in the next day's story: "It all culminated around 7 a.m. Saturday with the discovery of the final suspect, found lying cold and bleeding near Coon Creek with a large muddy bag of money nearby."

Erik Edward Lino, 23, was taken to Sierra Vista hospital wounded in the calf and suffering from hypothermia. He was then taken to the more secure hospital at California Men's Colony.

The other suspect involved in the shootout was identified at Shawn Cook, 24. Later, expert testimony would show his .44-caliber Magnum had not fired though the trigger had been pulled. Lino's gun had fired.

Arrested on Los Osos Valley Road was Martin Martinez Barajas, 28.

As of Sept. 24, 2013, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation online inmate locator lists the following information:

• Erik Edward Lino, 45 is an inmate at San Quentin, admission date 08/28/1992.

• Timothy Shawn Cook, 44, is an inmate at Pelican Bay, admission date 08/14/1992.

Martin Martinez Barajas is not listed in custody.

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