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Police nab suspected bank robber

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Left, An attempted escape by bank robbery suspect Frank Manuel Hernandez Jr. resulted in a demolished fence and overturned children's toys in the backyard of a home on Venturacci Lane.

June 20, 2005

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LVN Staff Writer

Fallon police on Friday captured the man suspected of trying to rob the Fallon Wells Fargo Bank inside Safeway two weeks ago. The suspect was arrested after a brief chase in an alley behind the 200 block of Venturacci Lane, just yards from the bank.

Frank Manuel Hernandez Jr., a 31-year-old transient, is also a suspect in robberies in Wells, Nev. and three other states.

At the time of his arrest, he was driving a Ford Expedition that police say was stolen in Rexburg, Idaho on Tuesday.

A citizen who read a description of the stolen vehicle in Friday's Lahontan Valley News alerted police to the dark green SUV with paper dealer plates in the alley at about 7:20 p.m. The suspect also has tattoos of eyeballs on the back of his shaved head, a distinctive identifying mark described by Fallon witnesses when the local bank was hit.

As a Fallon police officer came toward the vehicle from the south side of the alley, Hernandez allegedly tried to back out to the north. He crashed through a wooden fence into a backyard before fleeing on foot.

Officer Marianne Woller, who was on foot, got close enough to Hernandez to recognize him as the suspect seen on bank surveillance video, said Police Chief Russ Brooks.

Woller and officer Ron Wenger chased Hernandez as he jumped onto a rooftop in an attempt to escape. At one point, Wenger ripped off part of a wooden fence surrounding a residence to gain access into backyards.

The suspect leaped to a neighboring roof before he fell to the ground between two duplexes.

By this time, Woller and Wenger were joined by officer John Fisher.

"The car was still moving and kept moving as he went over the roof," Woller said shortly after Hernandez was taken into custody. "He started running between the two duplexes and we got him right there."

Hernandez was being sought as a suspect in the attempted bank robbery here on June 5. The suspect left the bank without any cash after handing the teller a note.

Authorities in Bishop, Calif. believe he robbed a Union Bank there June 1, and he is suspected of robbing a Wells Fargo Bank in Vancouver, Wash., May 26. In addition, his description matches a person who robbed a U.S. Bank in Mill City, Ore., May 19 and a First Federal Bank in Newburg, Ore., May 23.

On June 10, a Flying J truck stop in Wells was robbed. Assistant Police Chief Ray Dolan said the suspect also matches a description of Hernandez. A gun was used in that crime. Dolan said a semi-automatic handgun found in the stolen Ford is the same type used in the Wells robbery.

In all of those robberies, witnesses described tattoos on the suspect. In Oregon, the man who robbed two banks had a Chinese tattoo on the right side of his neck and a person's name off-set from the base of his neck, according to an Oregon television station's Web site.

In Washington, the tattoo was described as a tribal tattoo on the suspect's neck.

According to Churchill County Jail records, Hernandez has tattoos of Chinese symbols by his right ear, the numbers "333" on his left ear, "In loving memory of Vanessa Ortiz" on his neck and numerous other tattoos on his stomach and arms, along with the eyeballs on the back of his head.

"He faces multiple charges in multiple states," Chief Brooks said.

Residents in the area of the foot pursuit assisted police by giving them information on Hernandez's direction.

Anthony Omo lives on North Bailey Street. His back yard faces the alley where the suspect was first spotted.

"We were inside and heard a bang as he destroyed the trash cans," Omo said Friday night. "The old boy jumped on a roof then jumped to the other roof. He made it, too. We were yelling at the cops to tell them where he was. It was pretty exciting."

Brandie Wernette, who lives in a residence in the 200 block of Venturacci, said she heard "a big bang and then sirens" but didn't see much.

"I stepped outside because I thought it was an accident and got hollered at by the cops to get back inside," she said. "I just got back inside. He had jumped my fence and went through my back yard."

Hernandez is charged with attempted bank robbery, possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of methamphetamine, being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm, failure to stop for police, hit and run, a warrant charging violating parole and a Modesto, Calif., warrant. Bail on the attempted bank robbery allegation alone was set at $500,000 cash. Another $230,000 bail was set for various other charges, but Hernandez is being held without bail on the alleged parole violation.

He refused a request Saturday for an interview.

Fallon police don't know why Hernandez returned to Fallon. His last known location was in Idaho on Tuesday when he reportedly used a stolen California driver's license at a car dealership.

Rexburg Police Department Capt. Randy Lewis said the suspect asked to test drive the Ford Expedition, leaving a copy of the driver's license. He didn't immediately return. The suspect parked a Ford Explorer reported stolen in California when he arrived at the dealership, Lewis said, and was with a woman.

"They returned sometime later without (dealership employees) knowing it and picked up the Explorer," Lewis said. "There's a lot of similarities between this character and the guy in California."

Local authorities said the same California identification was used at Sierra Jewelry and Loan to pawn jewelry the day before the attempted bank robbery here. That link was also established by a surveillance photo, said Dolan.

Hernandez was alone when he was captured, and police do not know the woman's identity or her whereabouts.

Fallon police plan to search the Ford Expedition today after obtaining a search warrant. The gun was immediately removed as a safety factor, Dolan said.

"This was a community effort when we had people running across rooftops," he said. "I'm extremely pleased he was arrested here in Fallon."


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Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard - 562 North Maine Street - Fallon, NV 89406