An unarmed man walked into a Solana Beach Wells Fargo on the morning of Jan. 3, ordered everyone to the ground while announcing his intention to commit a robbery, then stripped to his underwear and sat in a chair to await his arrest, sheriff’s officials and a witness said.
The bizarre incident happened just minutes after the 9 a.m. opening of the Wells Fargo branch at Lomas Santa Fe Drive and Santa Helena, just off Interstate 5, according to sheriff’s Sgt. Brett Garrett.
During the incident, the man also asked bank employees to report the robbery to law enforcement, Garrett said.
Solana Beach resident Derek Stevenson was one of three customers inside, along with a man and woman who appeared to be together, he told the Union-Tribune in a phone interview.
“He shouted, ‘this is a robbery, everybody get on the ground!’” Stevenson recalled. “We all kind of froze and looked around, like ‘is this for real?’ But he repeated it aggressively.”
As Stevenson and the other man dropped to their knees, the suspect began to take off his shirt and told the woman she could sit in a chair instead of getting on the floor, Stevenson said.
After directing employees to call law enforcement, the man kicked off his shoes off and stripped to his underwear, Stevenson said. The man then sat in a chair near the front door.
A deputy arrived quickly, Garrett said. After assessing the situation, three deputies entered the bank and confronted the man, who surrendered without resistance.
The entire incident lasted about five to seven minutes, Stevenson said.
“We were all just quiet, while he sat down... like he was waiting for police to arrive,” Stevenson said. “It was scary… I still have a little adrenaline pumping several hours later.”
“The bank did not incur any loss,” Garrett said in a statement. “He was not armed and there were no injuries as a result of this incident.”
Deputies arrested the 35-year-old man on suspicion of attempted robbery, Garrett said. He was booked into the Vista jail, where he was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail.
Although the man never pulled out a weapon and appeared to lack the actual motivation to complete the robbery, “there was an initial fear that this guy was for real,” Garrett said.
“They thought it was a takeover-style robbery,” the sergeant said.
Garrett declined to speculate about the suspect’s motivations or discuss statements the man made, but said it was possible he simply wanted to be arrested.
-- Alex Riggins is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune.