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[whitespace] Manhunt for alleged bank robbers leads to school closures

One suspect captured, other remains at large

Cupertino--For three tense hours on June 11, schoolchildren at Cupertino Middle School and West Valley Elementary School waited on locked-down campuses, while officers from six law enforcement agencies searched a Sunnyvale creek for two men suspected of robbing a bank and running down a motorcycle cop.

The search ended when officers apprehended one of the suspects, Geoffrey Williams, 40, of East Palo Alto, but the other managed to elude capture and remains at large.

The day's conflict began around 11:15 a.m. when a man held up the Cal Fed Bank at 19300 Stevens Creek Blvd. According to Sgt. Mark Eastus, public information officer for the sheriff's office, one of the two suspects entered the bank and robbed it, while his accomplice sat in the getaway car outside the building.

The man handed a teller a note demanding money, but witnesses saw no signs that he carried a weapon. He left with the money a few minutes after he came in, and the pair drove off in a 1984 Oldsmobile reported stolen in Fremont.

Before the robbery call was broadcast, a sheriff's deputy on a motorcycle stopped a car with a passenger. The car's driver had been speeding at Stevens Creek Boulevard and Highway 85.

Deputy Ken Morgenthaler said he didn't even have a chance to get off his motorcycle, before the driver put the car in reverse and rammed the deputy, pinning him between the ground and his motorcycle. Morgenthaler managed to draw his weapon and fire shots at the vehicle, but it sped away.

The police agencies believe the car entered Interstate 280 traveling north, then switched to northbound Highway 85. Sheriff's deputies noticed car debris along the road, then discovered the suspects' car abandoned on Bernado Avenue, just south of Fremont Avenue.

Deputies notified the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety and asked for their help in finding the two suspects, according to Capt. Byron Pipkin, director of that agency's special operations unit.

Meanwhile, an anonymous tipster called the Los Altos Police Department to report two black men, who matched the suspects' descriptions, running into Stevens Creek, which flows alongside Bernardo Avenue. Police set up a perimeter along the creek that stretched from Homestead Road to El Camino Real.

The sheriff's emergency response team worked alongside the California Highway Patrol, the Sunnyvale Department on Public Safety, the San Jose Police Department, the Los Altos Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who had jurisdiction because of the bank robbery.

The search also used several canine units. According to Eastus, two bloodhounds and six German shepherds searched for the suspects' scent.

The search area included two schools in the Cupertino Union School District, Cupertino Middle School and West Valley Elementary, both located in Sunnyvale. The sheriff's office notified the district of the situation.

Both schools instituted their emergency procedures, according to Beverly Armstrong, director of communications for CUSD. This included locking down the campuses--no one could enter the campus and no student could leave until law enforcement officers gave the all clear.

At first, police didn't want to let anyone into the area, Armstrong said, and the schools prepared to keep the children indefinitely. Eventually, the agencies decided to allow parents to enter the schools to pick up their children. This decision came around dismissal time, according to Armstrong.

The children could not leave unless accompanied by a parent or guardian, though, and many parents did not immediately receive notification from the school. Staff at the two campuses stayed with the remaining children until their parents could get them, and the last student left about 5:30 p.m., Armstrong said.

"Our emergency plan worked really well," she added. "Everyone was perfectly safe throughout the whole thing."

At approximately 6:30 p.m., officers from the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety and a San Jose canine unit discovered Williams in the creek bed and arrested him. The officers found no signs of his partner, however, and called off the search shortly thereafter. According to Eastus, "We're following up on information to try and identify that person."

According to authorities, the suspect at large drove the car that struck the traffic officer. Witnesses describe him as a thin black man, about 5 feet 11 inches tall, possibly wearing a goatee. At the time of the robbery, he wore a blue shirt, dark pants, a blue and white bandana and silver reflective sunglasses. He carried a black canvas bag, roughly 8 inches by 8 inches.

The sheriff's office has linked the robbery to the car that ran down the sheriff's deputy, through eyewitness reports and evidence collected at the scene. Eastus said officers recovered money from the robbery, as well as other things that connect the two events.

This constitutes the second time in just under a month that a sheriff's deputy has discharged a weapon. The last instance occurred after an alleged double bank robbery and carjacking. It ended with the death of the suspect, Archie Doty Jr., 39, of San Jose, from three bullet wounds inflicted by Deputy Frederick Zanker, a 26-year veteran of the department.

That case will go to the district attorney's office, which, according to David Davies, who handles homicides and officer-involved shootings for the office, will present it to a grand jury whenever it receives the final report from the sheriff's office.

A month before that, a fatal armed robbery took place at the Jade Galore jewelry store in Cupertino when the robbers shot a security guard to death before fleeing the store. According to Eastus, the case is still ongoing and the department has no new information to offer at this time.
Kevin Fayle

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