Four gunmen, three with sawed-off shotguns, burst into a Mexican restaurant in Timonium last night and robbed 27 employees and customers of more than $800.
Police said today they are looking at the possibility the bandits who robbed Chi-Chi's Restaurant are part of a roving shotgun gang, which has hit 13 other restaurants and fast-food eateries in scattered sections of Baltimore County and robbed 27 victims on the streets of Towson and Woodlawn since late last year.
Sgt. Steven Doarnberger, spokesman for the county Police Department, said special police teams have been formed to try to catch the suspects, who investigators believe work in groups of two, three or four and intimidate their victims with pump-action, sawed-off shotguns.
"There are some similarities and some differences in the crimes, but we are looking at a rather strong possibility that they all are linked," Doarnberger said. "By all indications, all the crimes have involved sawed-offs and they are executing the robberies while using stolen cars. We think the group members are interchangeable and sometimes they wear ski masks, other times they don't."
Last night, the robbers entered the front doors of Chi-Chi's, in the first block of Timonium Road, shortly before 11 p.m. and three of them produced the shotguns from beneath olive drab trench coats. The fourth suspect was armed with a semiautomatic handgun.
Moving quickly, they forced 27 patrons and employees to lie on the floor while they collected money and other valuables from their victims.
An unidentified manager was forced to take one of the robbers to the restaurant's safe and was in the process of opening it when the thieves suddenly turned and fled the restaurant.
A witness told police she saw the four men in a light-colored hatchback auto that sped down Timonium Road and turned south on Interstate 83.
No shots were fired and no injuries were reported.
In tracing similar robberies, Doarnberger said last night's robbery may be associated with a group of men that since late last year has robbed establishments in Essex, Wilkens and Rosedale.
Those robberies included the Pizza Hut, 6500 block of Baltimore-National Pike; Popeye's on Liberty Road; a Hardee's in Essex; a McDonald's on York Road in Timonium; the same Pizza Hut robbed on Jan. 6; a Kentucky Fried Chicken eatery, hit twice on Dec. 26 and Dec. 31; and a Burger King in the 8300 block of Pulaski Highway.
Other places robbed included Murray's Steaks, 6500 block of Baltimore National Pike; Basics Food Store, 8200 block Liberty Road; McDonald's, 3200 block of Washington Blvd.; and a McDonald's, 6800 block of Loch Raven Blvd.
The street robberies, Doarnberger said, all were last month and were concentrated in the Towson, Garrison and Woodlawn areas.
Many of the robbery victims were women, who were approached while walking along the street, he said. A bandit would either jump from a car with a shotgun or a car would pull alongside the victim, who would then be robbed by a man with a shotgun in the passenger seat or in the back seat.
Most of those street robberies, he said, were in the York Road corridor in Towson and near the city line and along the Loch Raven Boulevard corridor. Last night's suspects were described black men with close-cropped hair. The man not wearing an olive drab trench coat was wearing a hooded sweat shirt under a ski jacket.