A suspected bank robber commandeered a Santa Maria police cruiser Saturday afternoon and slammed into several vehicles near Main Street and Blosser Road, injuring two people in a pickup plus a pedestrian.
At a press conference three hours after the crash, Santa Maria police Lt. Norm Comé identified the man under arrest as Phillip Craig Bailey, 43, of Atascadero.
The incident began about 12:56 p.m. with reports of a robbery at Chase Bank, 1846 N. Broadway, where a man allegedly threatened employees by claiming he had a weapon.
The suspect, who witnesses later identified as Bailey, fled on foot with an undisclosed amount of money, Comé said.
At 1:05 p.m., a police officer on an unrelated call saw Bailey attempting to carjack a woman and the officer, whose name wasn’t released, immediately tried to thwart the suspect, Comé said.
However, during a “prolonged” scuffle, Bailey was able to get into the idling patrol car and drive away, dragging the police officer for an undetermined distance, according to Comé.
During the altercation, the officer unsuccessfully deployed a stun gun.
The officer also was unable to radio for help in the fight and was unaware Bailey was suspected in a bank robbery, Comé said.
In making his getaway, Bailey drove westbound on Donovan Road before turning southbound onto Blosser Road, police said.
At 1:09 p.m., 9-1-1 callers reported a major collision after the cruiser struck a northbound Chevy truck in front of the Su Mesa market in the 100 block of South Blosser Road at an unknown speed.
After the head-on impact, the police car veered into at least two parked vehicles, a minivan and a sedan, and struck a female adult pedestrian.
The store’s windows also were damaged.
Police procedure calls for an officer to leave the vehicle’s motor running, Comé said. Officers are trained to react rapidly in fluid situations, he added.
A scenario involving a suspect who steals a police car and flees is a rare one, he added.
“This is an unusual occurrence,” Comé said.
Police were not in pursuit of the suspect at the time of the crash and it’s not known if the lights and sirens had been activated during the getaway, Comé said.
A driver, Jesus Escalante, said he was southbound on Blosser Road approaching Main Street with his wife and young daughter when the cruiser came up behind him at a high speed — without the lights or sirens activated — before passing him.
Bailey allegedly ran a red light at Main Street and the vehicle zig-zagged before slamming into the Chevy, Escalante said at the crash scene.
As police investigated the crash, onlookers filled the sidewalk in front of the Le Mejor de Jalisco restaurant across the street.
South Blosser Road was closed between Main Street and Church Street until the wreckage was removed.
The incidents sent at least four people to local hospitals.
Two people in the truck, a man who suffered moderate injuries and a girl who suffered major injuries, were taken to Marian Regional Medical Center.
The pedestrian suffered major injuries and was taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
Names of the victims weren’t yet available.
The officer had minor injuries from the scuffle with the suspect.
Bailey, who is on parole for grand theft, suffered major injuries including a broken leg.
In all, Bailey is believed to have attempted to carjack at least two other vehicles before fleeing in the patrol vehicle.
While investigating the incidents, officers didn’t find a weapon on Bailey, police said.
As of late Saturday afternoon, police didn’t know what criminal charges Bailey will face. The District Attorney’s Office will decide what charges will be filed after reviewing the reports, police said.
The California Highway Patrol will handle the collision investigation and the SMPD will conduct an investigation into the bank robbery, attempted carjackings, and successful carjacking.