The smoking wreck of a Honda Accord set on fire led Menlo Park police back to the scene of a bank robbery as they pieced together witness reports on Friday afternoon.
Wells Fargo Bank at 735 Santa Cruz Avenue reported a robbery around 1:30 p.m., and police said they arrived within one minute. Eight minutes later, calls came in about a vehicle fire two blocks south.
The red Honda Accord sat engulfed in flames under an apartment complex carport at 785 Roble Ave. Once extinguished, the car yielded a license plate matching a car reported stolen out of Redwood City.
Witnesses told police they spotted the Honda outside the bank, and then again as the car burned. A man reportedly got out and squeezed into the trunk of a white sedan parked nearby on Roble Avenue; the sedan fled the scene.
The suspect, described as an adult black man, wore a black T-shirt over a red long-sleeved shirt, blue jeans, white shoes and a baseball cap. A blue mask concealed his face. Witnesses said he looked about 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighed approximately 225 pounds.
The man vaulted the bank counter and later escaped with an unknown amount of money, Sgt. Kevin Paugh said. No weapons were used, and although the bank was full of employees and customers, no one was hurt during the robbery.
The fire caused some smoke damage to the apartment complex, according to a reporter on the scene.
Chief Harold Schapelhouman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District said the fire was out within 11 minutes and confined to the carport area in part due to the quick actions of the fire crew but also because of the rated one-hour sheet rock separation between the carport and living areas.
"The sheet rock will need to be replaced but it did its job," he said in a written statement. Residents were able to return to their homes and no injuries were reported.
Fire Investigator Ron Keefer determined that an accelerant was tossed into the passenger side of the Honda; the incident will be treated as part of a broader crime by Menlo Park police.
"This could have been a very significant and disastrous situation," the chief stated. "We will work closely with and in support of the Menlo Park Police Department so that they can identify, capture and prosecute this individual or individuals for arson and other related crimes to the full extent of the law."
Anyone with regarding these cases can call police at 330-6300 or the anonymous tip hotline at 330-6395.
Almanac Staff Michelle Le and Dave Boyce contributed to this report.