BY STEVE E. SWENSON, Californian staff writer
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org | Monday, Mar 31 2008 8:07 AM
Deputies shut down Highway 58 early Monday morning and used spike strips to thwart five Los Angeles Crips gang members from robbing the Golden West Casino.Weapons including an AK-47 and 12-gauge shotguns were seized and the suspects were arrested, including two that were tied to the Sept. 13. armed robbery of the casino at 1001 S. Union Ave.
“These guys (suspects) are very brutal and who knows what could have happened if something went wrong inside the casino,” Kern County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Craig Rennie said.
Investigators had been doing surveillance on the suspects in the Lancaster and Palmdale area and deputies learned over the weekend that they were planning to rob the casino on Monday, according to Cmdr. Kirk Foster. He would not say how deputies obtained the information about the five convicted felons.
At about 1 a.m., deputies followed the suspects and staked out Highway 58 near Towerline Road where the spike strips disabled two vehicles, a Plymouth van and a stolen black Toyota Camry, according to Rennie.
About 30 gang, special enforcement, narcotics and SWAT officers, with help from the California Highway Patrol, overwhelmed the suspects before they could plan to attack or escape, Foster said.
“It was some great work by a lot of people,” Rennie said. “They stopped what could have been a very serious offense.”
The suspects had brought black gloves and black T-shirts for the robbery and were going to change clothes before hitting the casino, Foster said. Price tags were still on the clothing.
The weapons taken from the suspect’s van are similar to the firearms used in the robbery at the casino in September, according to Foster.
In a video surveillance of the robbery, armed suspects with their heads wrapped with T-shirts stormed the casino and ordered customers and employees to cluster together in several areas of the business. One suspect chased down one man who tried to run away and another suspect dived under a teller cage and stole money from a cash register.
“This is a team capable of doing this anywhere,” Foster said. “The situation was very terrifying.”
Foster would not say how much was stolen, but the money has not yet been recovered.
A stolen car was used in the earlier robbery and was found with its engine running a few blocks from the casino at Madison Street and Planz Road. Rennie said it is common for a stolen car to be used and abandoned while the robbers make their getaway in another vehicle.
On Monday, deputies arrested Lynel Travon Lewis, 31; Michael Paul Johnson, 23; John Fitzgerald Williams, 19; Jajuan Bell, 29; and Don Lavell Joseph, 24; all of the Los Angeles area, officers reported.
They were booked on suspicion of attempted robbery, felons in possession of firearms, possession of an assault weapon and gang activity, according to deputies.
Williams and Bell were also booked on kidnap to commit robbery/rape and second-degree robbery charges in connection with the September robbery, deputies said.
The casino opened in November 1995 and now has 30 gaming tables and more than 200 employees, according to its Web site. It’s open 24 hours a day.
The casino issued a news release Monday afternoon thanking the Sheriff’s Department and other agencies for the arrests.
“We are proud of our security record at Golden West Casino and continue to make the safety and security of our employees and customers our number one priority,” the release said.
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