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Whittier police: Driver in pursuit is ‘Hills Bandit’ robbery suspect

A driver who led authorities on a dangerous high-speed pursuit through four Southern California counties Thursday before crashing and surrendering to police is a serial bank robber wanted by the FBI, police said.

Whittier police identified the driver as Stephen Richard Bartlett, 53, and said he’s the “Hills Bandit” that the FBI says is responsible for nine bank robberies or attempted robberies in Orange and San Diego counties since May.

About 10:15 a.m., a Santa Fe Springs commercial steel business reported that a man had stolen $12,000 in steel, Whittier police said. As officers arrived, the suspect was leaving in a flat-bed truck. Authorities said when officers tried to pull the driver over, he fled.

Over the next 90 minutes, police say, Bartlett led police and California Highway Patrol officers on a winding race through Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. He allegedly threw a replica handgun from the vehicle and was seen on TV news driving the wrong way on the freeway.

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At one point, he stopped the truck on the freeway and attempted to climb a chain-link fence, but then dashed back into the truck and drove off when he couldn’t get over.

The pursuit finally came to an end about 1 p.m. in Rialto when the truck veered right, caromed off the concrete wall of an overpass on the 210 Freeway and flew into the dirt on the side of the road and rolled onto its side.

Bartlett, moving slowly and apparently out of fight, climbed out of the truck, put his hands up and surrendered to police. He was treated at a hospital for minor injuries and is being held on suspicion of felony theft, evading, vehicle embezzlement, two hit-and-runs and numerous warrants connected to the bank robberies.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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