By Mark F. Gray, Staff Writer, [email protected]
The string of automatic teller machine thefts at 7-Eleven convenience stores in the D.C. area may have been cashed out temporarily by law enforcement authorities early Tuesday morning when three people, who were reportedly linked to the cases, were captured after a high-speed police chase in suburban Maryland.
In a story first reported by WTOP-FM, the arrests were the result of an increased presence of surveillance around the vulnerable establishments which had been targeted in D.C., Montgomery County and Prince George’s Counties following a series of what have come to be known as “smash and grab” thefts.
The less than sophisticated scheme normally involves two people wearing black and covering their faces as an attempt to hide their identity. They would walk into a 7-Eleven and order employees to the floor. A third person, using a flatbed pickup truck, would then back it up through the storefront, so that the other two could load up an ATM in the back where it would be brazenly loaded on for them the escape attempt with a 50 percent success rate authorities say.
According to broadcast accounts, around 3:45 a.m.Tuesday morning, Montgomery County officers, who were observing a store on Lockwood Drive in White Oak, Maryland, saw three people pull up in two vehicles and prepare for what appeared to be an armed robbery attempt.
The officers moved in quickly before the suspects could enter the store. Two of the suspects fled on foot and were ultimately caught. However, the driver, who witnessed the police’s intervention then fled by pulling out of the parking lot and the high speed chase ensued.
During the escape effort, the driver raced down U.S. 29 and Cherry Hill Road in a pickup truck and led officers on a chase down the Capital Beltway, for approximately three miles before crashing into a tractor-trailer near the Maryland Route 201/Kenilworth Avenue connector. The chase led to a brief shutdown of the Outer Loop, just before morning rush hour traffic started.
While some residents in the area feel relieved, the investigation continues into the other robberies of other 7-11 stores which have taken place since March. No specific arrests have been made in Prince George’s County Police where they have increased their presence at the convenience stores also. However, there are challenges with resources that have made stake out attempts that yielded these arrests challenging.
There have been four ATM robbery attempts in Prince George’s County, where the suspects have used a similar strategy. On March 13, April 3, April 10 and April 17 the thieves attempted snatch and grab robberies with two successful thefts and two that failed.
It remains to be seen if the thefts may be linked to a larger group because attempts in places such as Kettering, Maryland and Mount Rainier, Maryland, were also unsuccessful. Police haven’t able to positively identify any of the suspects who are still at large and link them to every incident. However, they haven’t been able to rule out the work of potential copycats in the area given the rudimentary modus operandi of these robbery attempts.
“We haven’t positively identified any suspects,” said Montgomery County police Capt. C. Thomas Jordan. “We’re looking at similar methods, but we really have to make sure that we get the right people. So we’re not to the point where we can fully say that yet, but there is no doubt there are similarities with the way the crimes are being committed.”
Just over a week before these arrests, two other 7-11 stores had been successfully robbed in the vicinity of the Prince George’s/ Montgomery County border near Silver Spring.