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Bank robber uses fake bomb in Ripon
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Ripon Police First Sgt. Steve Merchant is seen in front of the bank after members of a bomb unit exploded a suspected device that was used in a morning bank robbery. - photo by GLENN KAHL

RIPON - A bomb squad robot was set into motion Friday in a Ripon bank to take out a suspected explosive device left on a teller’s counter by a bank robber shortly after 10 a.m.

A man believed to be in his early 40s had entered the Bank of the West with the device and what he claimed was a detonator in his right hand.   He strolled across the lobby to a teller and placed the suspected device in front of her.   Police said he used a note to threaten to detonate the “bomb” he had in a bag if not given cash from the drawer.

Ripon Police units arrived on the scene within minutes and evacuated the bank and nearby businesses in addition to a residence to the north.  The suspect had already fled the scene on foot, according to witnesses.

The suspect was described to be either white or Hispanic and standing between 5-foot, 5-inches tall to as much as 5-foot-9.  Officers said he was wearing a tan jacket and wore blue jeans, white shoes and a white baseball cap with a dark stocking cap underneath.

Officers searched the surrounding neighborhood with the aid of a Stanislaus County Sheriff’s canine, but were unable to locate the robber in the area.  With the assistance of Ripon Fire Department personnel, police cordoned off the downtown business district in an effort to protect the public should it have been a bomb.

The robot carried the bag outside the bank building to a secure location where it was detonated by blowing the contents apart.

Ripon Police spokesman Steve Merchant said the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents as well as the San Joaquin County Bomb Squad assisted in the investigation.  He added that the device was determined not to be an explosive and appeared to be a cement block.

Sgt. Merchant said that past bank robberies in Ripon have had a near 100 percent conviction rate – suspects located either by Ripon or by other departments in the region.