Suspected robbery attempts thwarted in Los Banos

rparsons@mercedsun-star.comDecember 31, 2013 

At least one robbery and perhaps another have been foiled in Los Banos this week, police said Tuesday.

A man described by Los Banos police as a “young black man” threatened a convenience store clerk about 2:37 a.m. Tuesday in the 400 block of North Mercey Springs Road, Cmdr. Ray Reyna said.

“He threatened the clerk that he had a weapon, but the clerk basically called his bluff,” Reyna said Tuesday.

The man left and was last seen running east across North Mercey Springs Road.

No one was injured and no weapon was seen, police said.

The incident came two days after a suspected robbery attempt was stopped before it started.

Police said customers and a clerk at a store in the 1700 block of East Pacheco Boulevard were suspicious of three young men sitting in a vehicle outside the store and called police to investigate.

Officers arrived about 1:45 a.m. and found the men parked in a 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe with paper license plates. The vehicle had been reported stolen in Oakland on Dec. 1, police said.

A fake handgun was found inside the vehicle along with an undisclosed amount of suspected methamphetamine, Reyna said.

Justin Luster, 19, of Richmond, was arrested, along with two 16-year-old boys.

“We strongly believe the suspects were planning a robbery, but thankfully the clerk called 911 and our officers were able to intervene before the suspects entered the store,” Los Banos police said in a news release.

Police said Luster initially gave officers a bogus name, but investigators confirmed his identity after taking him into custody.

Three armed robberies were reported Dec. 23 in Merced County, just hours apart. Police have said that at least two, and possibly all three, may have been committed by the same man.

No arrests have been made.

About 12:18 a.m. Dec. 23, a Chevron station on West Highway 140 near Gustine was robbed at gunpoint by a masked man. About 3:02 that same morning, a man wearing a skeleton mask and a black hooded sweat shirt pointed a silver and black semi-automatic handgun at a clerk inside a market on Bell Lane in Atwater, police said.

Police said those two robberies are connected.

Less than an hour later, about 3:51 a.m., a masked man held up a convenience store in the 400 block of North Mercey Springs Road, the same location as Tuesday’s attempted robbery.

Reyna said police do not believe there is any connection between Tuesday’s attempted robbery and the incidents from earlier this month, noting that the suspect descriptions are different.

Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to contact Detective Justin Melden at (209) 827-7070, ext. 114.

To leave an anonymous crime tip call (209) 827-7070, ext. 288. If you have access to a computer and the Internet you can also leave an anonymous tip at the Police Department’s Web page at www.losbanos.org. At the bottom of the “Contact” page, click on the “report graffiti and other crime” link; or call the Merced Area Crime Stoppers at (855) 725-2420, or go to www.mercedareacrimestoppers.org.

Staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at rparsons@mercedsun-star.com or (209) 385-2482.

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