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San Diego

Two San Diego banks and one credit union were robbed Wednesday, increasing to more than 130 the record number of bank robberies in 1988, police said.

About 12:30 p.m., a man wearing a Panama hat fled from the City National Bank on Villa La Jolla Drive with $1,660, police spokesman Bill Robinson said, adding that the suspect is believed to have committed a series of robberies that police are calling the Panama Hat series.

The suspect is described as white, 6 feet tall and weighing 180 pounds. Bank officials told police that the robber raised his sweat shirt above his waist, displaying a blue-steel handgun in his waistband.

In the second robbery, a suspect was arrested after the Financial Federal Credit Union, 440 Beech St., was held up about 3:15 p.m.

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A white male, about 5-foot-7 and 140 pounds, wielded a handgun and took off with more than $2,000, police said.

A witness pursued the man to nearby woods, where the robber pointed a gun at the witness to scare him off. The robber removed his shirt and pants and jumped over a fence, running onto California 163 not far from the intersection of 7th Avenue and Date Street.

Detective Steve McMillan, responding to the call, apprehended the suspect, who was wearing only flowered shorts, police said.

The man taken into custody was identified as Arthur Eugene Vargas, 29, of San Diego. After questioning, he was booked by the FBI into the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

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The third robbery occurred about 4 p.m. at California First Bank in the 300 block of Laurel Street. Police believe this holdup was committed by a man who committed several other robberies. He is described as having a Middle Eastern appearance, and police have labeled him the Beirut Robber.

The suspect--said to be about 5-foot-10, 200 pounds with brown eyes, black hair and a beard--was wearing a flannel shirt Wednesday and a “Members Only” brand black jacket. He handed the teller a note telling her to be “quick and quiet, to hand over large bills first, and no tricks” because he was armed, Robinson said.

The thief put an undetermined amount of money inside a large bag with a white strap and left. Robinson said it was either the 131st or 132nd robbery of the year, far surpassing last year’s 110.


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