A suspect robbed the Bank of the West at 1480 Shattuck Ave. around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday with what was revealed to be an empty package he claimed to be a bomb.
The man placed a small parcel on a teller’s window, handed the bank employee a note saying it was an explosive device and demanded an undisclosed amount of money. The teller gave the suspect cash before he escaped on foot and left the empty box, said Lt. Russell Lopes of the Berkeley Police Department.
Lopes said the alleged robber was a medium built black male in his mid 30s, about 5 feet 10 inches tall, wearing a black puffy jacket, black jeans and sunglasses. He was in and out of the bank within two or three minutes, headed south on Shattuck, then west on Vine Street, Lopes said.
The bank was evacuated and police removed pedestrians and cars within a 300-foot radius of the building. Businesses on the west side of Shattuck from a block south of Vine to Rose Street were evacuated. Customers on the east side of Shattuck were evacuated, but owners and employees were not.
A single member of the bomb squad entered the bank about 2:45 p.m. and set up X-ray and photographic equipment to determine the contents remotely. Since it was inconclusive what the contents were, police brought the box outside, placed it in the bank parking lot and attempted to open it with a detonation cord. By design, the cord triggered projectiles that would essentially implode the box and scatter its contents, Lopes said.
Yelling “fire in the hole,” a member of the bomb squad fired the remote device, resulting in several small pops. Lopes said the pops came from the detonation device misfiring.
The device misfired several times before it caused the box to open and reveal its contents. Lopes said it was empty, as he had expected.
Police are checking the handwritten note for fingerprints and reviewing the security tape, but Lopes said it will “take some time to process it.” As of Wednesday night there were no suspects.
Police had estimated that it would take up to five or six hours to clear the streets. It only took a couple of hours, however, but several people were stranded as a result of their cars being parked inside the blocked-off area.
Standing behind the police barrier on Shattuck Avenue, Erin Crow of Oakland lamented parking her in the block-off area.
Crow’s watch read 3:50 p.m. and she was worried: “My kid’s in Alameda and I have to pick him up at 4 p.m.”
Staff reporter Dan Greenman