BANK ROBBERY SUSPECT CAUGHT AFTER EAST OAHU CHASE
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Police converged on Maunalaha Road near the intersection of Round Top Drive yesterday after a bank-robbery suspect led them on a chase from downtown, to East Honolulu and up to Tantalus, where he was apprehended.
Helicopter helps successful HPD arrest
A motorcyclist leads police on a wild ride that ends in his arrest on Round Top Drive
In a matter of minutes, a Palolo man allegedly stole a motorcycle at gunpoint, robbed a downtown bank and led more than two dozen police officers and a police helicopter in a chase across East Honolulu yesterday.
Police said Phong Le, 29, led officers from downtown to East Oahu and back to Makiki, where he drove the motorcycle up Round Top Drive, and was boxed in by officers.
Police said Le abandoned the bike and ran into the brush, but the helicopter tracked him as he fell down a hillside. He was apprehended about 47 minutes after the motorcycle was reported stolen. He was being held last night on suspicion of two counts of first-degree robbery.
According to Capt. Frank Fujii, spokesman for the Honolulu Police Department, this was the chain of events:
» At 9:11 a.m., a victim called police to report that a man had stolen his 2005 Suzuki motorcycle at gunpoint on McCully Street.
» At 9:23 a.m., police received a call reporting an armed robbery at Hawaii National Bank at 841 Bishop St.
The suspect, dressed in a black shirt, blue jeans and a dark blue-colored handkerchief, jumped over the teller counter, grabbed an undisclosed amount of cash from the drawers, and ran out of the bank, security officer Gilbert Shimatsu said. The suspect fled on a motorcycle.
A police helicopter tracked the suspect in the McCully area, leading ground officers on the chase.
Le, police said, was seen driving the motorcycle on sidewalks on Fern and Wiliwili Streets before he reached King Street and the H-1 freeway onramp near the Hawaiian Humane Society.
Traveling at speeds of up to 100 mph on the freeway, the suspect headed toward Hawaii Kai, but when he reached the Wailupe area, he made a U-turn and headed back to town, Fujii said.
He got off the freeway near the Punahou area and drove up Round Top Drive. Police said he drove past a road closure sign in an area closed by landslides, abandoned the bike, jumped over a guardrail and into the valley.
Resident Clarence Moses said he was removing some weeds from a hillside near his home when he saw the helicopter and heard sirens.
"I knew something was wrong," Moses said.
With their guns drawn, police told Moses that they were searching for an armed-robbery suspect.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Police investigated the site where a stolen motorcycle was ditched before the suspect jumped over a guard rail and ran down a hill to Maunalaha Road, where he was caught.
Moses said he immediately told his two daughters to get out of the house with his two grandchildren just in case the suspect decided to enter his home. Five minutes later, just before 10 a.m., Moses said police captured him.
Le, who was hiding in bushes, offered some resistance, police said. He was treated for minor abrasions on his face and arms at the Queen's Medical Center before being booked at the police station in the afternoon.
Police recovered a handgun from the suspect, a black-colored backpack and one of his shoes.
Fujii said high-speed police chases are rare in Hawaii.
"Here in Honolulu, we don't have very many pursuits. Because whenever we engage in any type of pursuit, we always weigh the risks involved in comparison to the crime and the danger that the suspect poses to the community," he said.
"But in this case, we were able to do so successfully because the helicopter was already in the air. And because of the helicopter's ability to maintain visual contact with the suspect, we could continue the pursuit in a very safe manner," he said.
This was the 23rd bank robbery in Hawaii so far this year, Fujii said.