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For the second time in five weeks, a band of gunmen from the East Coast stormed into Sonoma County homes before dawn Monday and demanded marijuana from residents, triggering an intense manhunt across the North Bay.

In the latest incident, nine suspects targeted three homes on Eugenia Drive, a short private road just outside the Petaluma city limits, said sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Spencer Crum.

A man living in one of the homes was tied up and pistol-whipped in the 3 a.m. Monday robberies, Crum said. No one was shot, unlike two Feb. 8 pot-related home invasions outside Santa Rosa that left one man dead and another wounded.

“Twice in just over a month people came from the East Coast and targeted homes in our county.” Crum said. “It’s very concerning and disturbing.”

No marijuana was present in the homes, Crum said. The suspects piled into two vehicles and fled, but Petaluma police spotted them leaving the area around 3:24 a.m. and attempted to pull them over, he said.

The chase continued south on Highway 101 to Marin County. One of the vehicles, a rented white minivan, stopped on the shoulder of the highway by the San Marin Drive exit, where five men jumped out and ran into the hills, Crum said.

One of the men was arrested after he knocked on a Novato woman’s door around 6 a.m. and asked her to call an Uber for him, Crum said. Instead she called police.

Three people were arrested when the second vehicle was found in a Costco parking lot in Novato, Crum said.

Four men and one woman escaped an intense search of the area by the Sonoma County sheriff’s SWAT unit with assistance from the Marin County Sheriff’s Office and the Novato and San Rafael police departments, Crum said.

The suspects were considered armed and dangerous. Multiple guns were found in and near the minivan, Crum said.

Residents in northwest Novato neighborhoods were told to shelter in place as deputies and police officers, armed with assault weapons and clad in military-style tactical gear, searched residential streets leading up into the Novato hills.

The SWAT perimeter was disbanded in northwest Novato around 2:30 p.m. after four men from the white minivan were not found, Crum said.

The Sheriff’s Office has yet to release the identities of the suspects, but it confirmed some were from North Carolina.

In the pre-dawn raid, the suspects parked by an antique shop on Bodega Avenue, walked down nearby Petersen Lane and kicked down a fence to get onto the property before kicking in the doors of three homes, said Warren Percell, who owns an art studio at the intersection of Bodega Avenue and Eugenia Drive.

“Everyone is pretty shaken up,” said Percell. “There were kids in two of the homes.”

A landowner of the private drive asked the media to stay off the property.

Detectives investigating the home invasions do not yet know why the homes were targeted, Crum said. No signs of marijuana operations were found in the homes.

“People got tied up and beaten this morning with no evidence at all that they’ve even been in the marijuana industry,” Crum said.

Despite Proposition 64, the 2016 ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana in California, pot remains a valuable commodity on the black market both inside and outside the state. The California State Sheriffs’ Association opposed the ballot measure, in part because of concerns it would lead to more crime, Crum said.

“We said Prop. 64 would increase violent crime and now we’re seeing this,” Crum said.

In the Feb. 8 home invasions, five masked intruders stormed two homes in the northwest and southwest outskirts of Santa Rosa before dawn, restraining families with duct tape while they demanded marijuana and money.

At the first home, on Fulton Road, a 42-year-old man was shot in the arm but not seriously injured. Investigators found no evidence of drugs or illegal activity at the home, Crum said.

The five suspects then went to a home 5 miles to the south on Melcon Lane, where Jose Luis Torres was shot and killed. Investigators found evidence of cannabis cultivation and sales at the home, Crum said.

Four of the five suspects were arrested later that day, three in Vallejo and another at a motel in Santa Rosa.

Amber Hembree, 20, of Richmond, Virgina, has evaded arrest since the Feb. 8 home invasions. She is an alleged Crip gang member and was romantically involved with one of the four men arrested, Crum said.

Mussie Himed, 27, is the only suspect from the Feb. 8 home invasions from Santa Rosa. The other three arrested are Tyrone Mcrae, 25, of Jackson, Mississippi; Jonathan Jackson, 19, of Richmond Hill, New York; and David Ealey, 23, of Richmond, Virginia.

The four men are facing murder, robbery, burglary, kidnapping and false imprisonment charges in Sonoma County Superior Court.

You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nrahaim.

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