A suspect in a Dana Point bank robbery who was found dead in a vehicle at the end of a SWAT standoff after leading deputies on a pursuit to Rancho Santa Margarita may be the “Leatherface Bandit” serial robber, linked to three prior heists in Orange County, officials said.
The standoff was reported shortly before 5 p.m. at Avenida De Las Banderas and Avenida Empresa, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
A SWAT team responded to the scene and tried to communicate with the suspect, police said via social media.
Authorities announced the suspect was found dead inside a vehicle about 45 minutes later.
He was believed to have shot himself, FBI Special Agent Christopher Gicking said.
The robbery took place shortly before 4 p.m. at Pacific Western Bank, 34180 Pacific Coast Highway, FBI spokeswoman Laure Eimiller said.
After obtaining an undetermined amount of cash, the robber rode away from the bank on a bicycle, officials said. He then stashed the bike in the bed of a pickup truck and drove off.
“We had a witness who gave a description of the getaway vehicle,” Gicking said. Orange County sheriff’s deputies found the truck and the driver led them on a pursuit to Rancho Santa Margarita.
The fleeing suspect briefly eluded deputies during the chase, but was spotted again a short time later, Orange County sheriff’s Capt. Jared Dahl said. The pursuit resumed until the suspect crashed into a parked car while making a U-turn in Rancho Santa Margarita and coming to a stop.
A SWAT team cautiously approached the truck before finding the suspect dead, Dahl said.
Federal agents suspected the suspect in Friday’s robbery and pursuit may be the same man who robbed three other Orange County banks since March and is known as the “Leatherface Bandit,” she said.
“Based on the (modus operandi) and description, we believe it’s very possibly the same individual,” Eimiller said.
The previous robberies took place April 9 at an Opus Bank in Yorba Linda; March 8 at a Citibank in Costa Mesa; and March 7 at a OneWest Bank in Corona del Mar, according to the FBI.
“That individual appears to have worn the same disguise the the suspect wore today,” Gicking said.
The bandit generally wears a realistic mask depicting an elderly man and brandishes a a handgun during the crimes, officials said. All but the Yorba Linda heist were described as “takeover” robberies, in which the suspect robbed multiple tellers at each bank.
In Friday’s Dana Point robbery, as well as in the Corona del Mar crime, the suspect was seen using a bicycle as a getaway vehicle.
Officials summoned a bomb squad to inspect the suspect’s truck “out of an abundance of caution,” Gicking said.
Coincidentally, the FBI issued a wanted flier for the Leatherface Bandit via Twitter about 5 p.m. Friday, as the pursuit and standoff were underway, officials said.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office at 310-477-6565.
The Bank Robbery Apprehension Team is seeking the Leatherface Bandit, wanted for armed heists in #NewportBeach #CostaMesa & #YorbaLinda. The suspect wears a mask while brandishing a firearm & gets away on an electric bike. Have info? Please call 3104776565 #FugitiveFriday #BRAT pic.twitter.com/WZNoxqLycf
— FBI Los Angeles (@FBILosAngeles) April 19, 2019
The investigation into the incident is ongoing. We are working with @FBILosAngeles and the Bank Robbery Apprehension Team to identify the suspect. There is a possibility he may be related to three other bank robberies in OC. The intersection at Banderas and Empresa remains closed
— OC Sheriff, CA (@OCSheriff) April 20, 2019