A homeless woman and her legless partner were nabbed by authorities on a transit bus in Klamath after allegedly robbing a bank in Crescent City on Tuesday.
Police Sgt. Erik Apperson, right, shows some of the stolen money to Sarah Williams, 29, center, as she is arrested Tuesday. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
The Crescent City Police Department was alerted to a bank robbery around 2:45 p.m. at the Bank of America branch on H Street, said Police Sgt. Erik Apperson.
A woman had entered the bank and handed a note to a teller demanding money and left with about $2,700, Apperson said.
Vehicles from most local law enforcement agencies could be seen patrolling downtown streets in an effort to locate the suspects; a few people were briefly detained.
Witnesses to the bank robbery were interviewed and a wheelchair was located that the woman dumped near 3rd Street before robbing the bank, Apperson said, adding that a purse with documents identifying 29-year-old Sarah J. Williams was found with the chair.
At that point, “We still didn’t know who it was,” said Apperson. “We had several people detained around town and we were starting to take some of our witnesses to those people.”
As Apperson was driving his main witness to a detainee, the man told him he couldn’t describe the female robber, but the person she met outside of the bank was a legless man on a motorized scooter, Apperson said.
“That’s when I knew who I was dealing with,” said Apperson.
Apperson and Police Officer Jennifer Owens had encountered the man, later identified as 43-year-old James C. Smith, and Williams while on routine patrol earlier in the week.
Smith was cruising the streets on his scooter with Williams holding onto the back of it while sitting in her wheelchair, Apperson said.
“Something like that sort of stands out,” said Apperson.
Around the time Apperson ascertained a workable description of the robbers, a sheriff’s deputy located a change of clothes and the note used in the robbery in a trash can in the women’s restroom of the library, Apperson said. Williams had taken off an outer layer of clothes, discarded a hat and sunglasses and tied up her hair in an attempt to change her appearance, Apperson said.
An incident command center was set up and Sheriff’s Commander Tim Athey contacted Redwood Coast Transit to alert its drivers of the duo’s description, Apperson said.
Shortly afterward a call came back notifying authorities a driver heading toward Arcata had the pair on his bus.
The race was on.
Apperson led a five-car contingent down U.S. Highway 101 toward Klamath, where the bus driver routinely stopped at Pey-Mey Fuel Mart.
He calmly relayed information over the radio. At first, the Yurok Tribal Police couldn’t be reached.
“The bus driver is trying to delay as much as he can,” a dispatch operator radioed.
Stopped briefly at the Last Chance Grade construction project, Apperson sped to catch the bus before it left for Arcata.
When he was a couple miles north of Klamath, the operator radioed that the tribal police had been reached and its officers were going to detain the people on the mini-bus.
“Everybody on the bus is handcuffed,” the operator said.
Apperson arrived to the sight of Smith being lowered from a ramp on the bus.
The two were arrested on suspicion of robbery. Williams rode back to Crescent City in Apperson’s car and Smith, handcuffed to his scooter and accompanied by an officer, rode back on the bus.
“I’m really pleased with everybody,” said Apperson. “We pooled all of our resources together, nobody was hurt, the bank robbers went to jail and we recovered all of the money absent some spent on snack food from Pey-Mey,” said Apperson.
A couple of energy drinks and peanut M&Ms were purchased, Apperson said.
Additional information about the backgrounds of Williams and Smith were not available Wednesday.
The Sheriff’s Office, Yurok Tribal Police, California Highway Patrol, state and national parks and the U.S. Forest Service assisted with the apprehension.