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3 valley banks robbed, 4 suspects apprehended

Three banks in three cities along Highway 99 were robbed Wednesday, police said. The day of hold-ups ended with four people in handcuffs and at least three suspected robbers at large.

The first robbery happened shortly before 10 a.m. in Ripon. An alarm notified authorities of a robbery at the Bank of Stockton in the 200 block of West Main Street. Police dispatchers used the city's video surveillance cameras to watch two suspects leaving the bank's rear entrance, said Lt. Ed Ormonde, a Ripon police spokesman.

Officers arrived at the bank and spotted someone matching a suspect's description leaving the area in a black vehicle. Officer Stephen Meece made a traffic stop and detained the vehicle's four occupants at gunpoint, Ormonde said. Witnesses identified Christopher Jennings, 20, and Jeremy Morton, 24, both of Oakland, as the men who robbed the bank. They were arrested. Police also arrested Valina Jenkins, 20, of Berkeley and Jasmine Thomas, 18, who were in the vehicle. Jenkins was identified as the driver.

The second robbery occurred in Merced. At 3:49 p.m., police received a call about an armed man holding up the Westamerica Bank at 490 W. Olive Ave. Witnesses described the suspect as a black male adult with braided hair. The man entered the bank, brandished a handgun and demanded money, according to a statement from the Merced Police Department.

The man ran from the bank with an undisclosed amount of money. The suspect was described as approximately 5 feet 8 inches tall, wearing a blue puffy jacket.

An hour later, another bank was hit, this time in Modesto. Police received a 911 call at 4:49 p.m. about a robbery at U.S. Bank at 3501 Tully Road, said police spokesman Sgt. Brian Findlen. Witnesses said three black male adults entered the bank. At least two were armed with handguns. The suspects were described as wearing all- black clothing and black masks.

They left the bank with an undisclosed amount of money and reportedly fled in a Jeep Cherokee. Police found the unoccupied vehicle a half-mile away at Colonial and Noarco drives. A records search revealed the car had been reported stolen.

Findlen said it was too early to know whether the robberies in Merced and Modesto were related.

Police ask anyone with information about the robbery at U.S. Bank to call Crime Stoppers at 521-4636. Tipsters can e-mail through the Crime Stoppers Web site, www.modestopolice.com/CrimeStoppers, or text tips to CRIMES (274637) by typing "Tip704" and a message. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378. Follow her at twitter.com/beereporter.

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