Two people were sent to the hospital with gunshot wounds Thursday afternoon and a suspect was still at large following a botched robbery and shootout at a Bennett Valley jewelry store, the second such incident at the business in a little less than a year.
A woman who worked at Bennett Valley Jewelers was treated for a gunshot wound at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and released, while a man suspected of trying to rob the store suffered “life-threatening” injuries after he was shot by a man who worked at the store, Santa Rosa police said.
A second suspect left his wounded accomplice behind and fled the Yulupa Avenue strip mall in a Ford Mustang convertible. The car, which police said had been reported stolen in Livermore, was found about a quarter-mile away from the site of the attempted robbery.
The incident, which happened just after 1:30 p.m., triggered a wide-ranging search in Bennett Valley that led police through quiet residential neighborhoods and into Annadel State and Spring Lake parks.
Officers with dogs combed the streets as police motorcycles and patrol cars drove onto dirt access roads to Annadel, where a person spotted a running man matching the suspect’s description. Officers and park rangers hiked up trails, and at least two helicopters aided the search from above.
The suspect was described as a large black man with dreadlocks in his early 20s, wearing a white-and-blue plaid shirt, blue jeans and white tennis shoes, Sgt. Brad Conners said. The man may have been wounded during the encounter and should be considered “armed and dangerous,” Conners said.
The search was called off by police about 5:30 p.m. with the suspect still at large.
Police, including an off-duty officer who happened to be at the mall, apprehended the wounded man, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. David Linscomb said.
“I drove into the parking lot and saw this guy get tackled by two big guys,” Regina Kech of Sebastopol said. “The guy on the ground looked like he’d been shot. He was bleeding and screaming.”
On Thursday at about 1:30 p.m., witnesses said, they saw two men get out of a red sports car in front of a nail salon in the Yulupa Avenue strip mall. One was wearing a mask and carrying a gun, said Vickie Lee, who manages Modern Nails. The two men walked into the jewelry store, she said. Shortly after, gunshots were heard.
There were three employees in the store when the suspects entered and no customers, according to Linscomb.
“Two suspects walked into the store. At least one of them had a gun,” he said.
There was an exchange of gunfire inside the store between the suspects and “someone associated with the jewelry store,” Linscomb said.
“The confrontation ensued — they fired at each other,” he said. “One man ran out to the Mustang and drove off,” leaving the other suspect behind, Linscomb said.
“It was scary. I fell over running to the back, I was so nervous,“ said Lenna Saltzman of Santa Rosa, who was at Modern Nails, three stores down from the jewelers. Employees locked the doors and ushered the customers to the back. “My first thought was that any moment someone would barge in and start shooting.”
Nearby at Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor, Tyler Arlich, 17, of Santa Rosa heard glass breaking.
“Then three gunshots went off and someone was yelling, ‘Get on the ground, get on the ground, this is serious,’ ” Arlich said.
“There were at least eight to 10 shots easily,” said Joe Kaminski, owner of Joe’s Video, two doors down from the jewelry store.
About 10 customers and staff ran to the back of the video store. At least two men were seen running out of Bennett Valley Jewelers, several witnesses said.
“All I wanted to do was lock the door. We didn’t want anyone running in here,” Kaminski said.
Arlich said he saw two men run out of the store and heard a man — apparently an employee — yelling: “He’s an armed robber.”
One suspect got into a Ford Mustang and the other fell to the ground, got up and ran, and fell again. Arlich said a police officer tackled the man, who was wearing a ski mask and holding his chest where he appeared to have been shot. The suspect’s hand also was injured, Arlich said.
Police did not release the name of the suspect who was shot.
“We are in the process of identifying the suspects,” said Linscomb, adding there was an “extensive” search of the area for the at-large man.
Arlich said he also saw a female employee being carried out of the jewelry store on a gurney by paramedics. She was alert and talking with the emergency responders and her arms were in bandages.
“I’m still shaking,” Arlich said.
The jewelry store has been robbed at least twice previously in the past six years.
Almost exactly a year ago, three men walked into the same jewelry store armed with a shotgun and a hammer. One of the suspects pointed his gun at an employee, who opened fire on them, according to police. That employee was not identified by police. The robbery last July 16 resulted in three East Bay men being arrested on Highway 101 after they fled the store.
On March 5, 2008, a man chatted with staff then brandished a gun, stuffed a bag with Rolex watches and ran out of the store. Police released several sketches of the suspect but have not announced an arrest in the case.
“You don’t think this is ever going to happen again,” said Laura Colgate, who identified herself as the wife of a co-owner of the store. “I think it’s crazy for someone to make a special trip here to rob us. You really have to be motivated.” Colgate said the store added video surveillance following last year’s incident.
The robberies have put area businesses on alert.
Near the jewelry store, Ashley Fuller at Bennett Valley Pet Center said she had a plan in place for such an incident.
“I was prepared,” Fuller said. “So when I heard the shots I got my employee and customers together, went into the back office and called 911.”
Staff Writer Jamie Hansen contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writers Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org and Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or email@example.com.