Jury selection begins today in Santa Rosa for two men suspected in a dramatic armored car robbery in Windsor last year in which a guard was shot and the suspects fled, sparking a massive manhunt and more gunplay that ended after police rammed the getaway vehicle in Calistoga.
Ivan Morales, 24, of Lakeport and Sergey Gutsu, 25, of Antelope in Sacramento County, each faces life in prison if convicted of the brazen holdup outside the Chase Bank branch that left a Loomis truck guard wounded and sent witnesses scrambling for cover through the shopping center parking lot.
The masked men fled into Napa County, where Gutsu is suspected of shooting at a Calistoga officer before he was caught and Morales — the man prosecutors said shot the Loomis guard — was tracked down by SWAT team members as the shaken community was ordered to shelter in place.
Now, more than a year later, the two are getting their day in court. Judge Patrick Broderick will preside over the selection of two juries — one for each man — because of evidence that is not admissible against both. Each made recorded police statements outlining their roles.
“I shot at the cop; he shot at the guard with the AK,” Gutsu said in his statement, played during a preliminary hearing.
Morales’ panel will be chosen first from the pool of more than 100 prospective jurors called to Broderick’s courtroom today. Gutsu’s jury will be picked over the next two weeks. Opening statements and witness testimony are expected near the end of September.
The July 12, 2016, heist happened just before 2 p.m. in the crowded Safeway Lakewood shopping center. A guard parked outside the bank was unloading coins and a bag filled with $30,000 cash from his truck when he saw a masked man standing 15 to 20 feet away, pointing an AK-47-style rifle at him, according to his preliminary hearing testimony.
The guard turned to run as gunfire rang out. He was shot at least three times and fell to the ground as the robbers sped away, changing cars before driving about 20 miles to Calistoga.
Other testimony suggested Morales and Gutsu, high school friends from Southern California, had been casing the bank for some time.
It was not the first robbery linked to the men. Nor was it the first armored car robbery in Sonoma County.
Both were suspected in an armored truck robbery in Granada Hills, in the San Fernando Valley. Gutsu is also a prime suspect in the killing of a Quizno’s sandwich shop owner in Los Angeles County.
In a taped interview, he bragged to a Sonoma County sheriff’s detective that he’s been involved in 74 robberies in his lifetime.
There have been numerous armored car heists in Sonoma County in the past few decades, typically involving armed, masked men, and sometimes gunfire and death.
Almost $1 million was stolen in August 2011 from Garda Armored Car Services in Santa Rosa. A year later, one of those suspects planned a follow-up heist but was arrested after police were alerted. That man was convicted and given a 32-year prison sentence.
In May 2009, an armed man held a Brink’s guard at gunpoint during a lunchtime robbery outside of a Bank of America in downtown Sebastopol, making off with an undisclosed amount of money.
And in April 2008 a gunman disguised as a gardener pulled out a handgun to rob an armored truck outside of a Bank of America branch at the Montgomery Village Shopping Center in east Santa Rosa. He was caught after several additional heists and is serving a more than 30-year prison sentence.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or email@example.com. On Twitter @ppayne.