by Mitch Lehman
More than seventy law enforcement and safety officials spent most of the early hours of Sunday morning setting up a containment operation at San Marino High School, eventually taking into custody an armed robbery suspect who was chased onto the property by police officers.
William Bolczak, 42, of Hemet was arrested at 6:30 a.m. and booked on suspicion of robbery and possession of prescription painkillers. He was taken to Alhambra Jail and was arraigned yesterday.
The ordeal began shortly before midnight, when the suspect robbed the 7-11 store in Alhambra near the intersection Atlantic and Garfield that was occupied by about a half dozen customers, according to a source. A female patron followed the suspect, who had taken the store’s cash register, as he fled through San Marino eastbound on Huntington Drive. The citizen dialed 911 and remained in pursuit.
Alhambra police officers joined the chase and the caravan was met by officers from the San Marino Police Department at the corner of Huntington Dr. and Del Mar Blvd.
Bolczak exited the vehicle and reached for his waistband when an officer from the Alhambra Police Department fired a shot, according to San Marino Police Lieutenant Les Rune, who eventually called the shots for a local SWAT response. Lieutenant Rune is serving a one-year term as commander of FSET – the Foothill Special Enforcement Team – which includes officers from the San Marino, Monrovia, LaVerne, Monrovia and Glendora Police Departments.
Yesterday, Rune stated that he was told one shot was fired in front of the high school and another during the on-campus pursuit. One report claimed that the suspect returned fire.
Police officers chased Bolczak onto the property of San Marino High School, up the west drive and eventually lost their mark near the school’s tennis courts. Backups arrived, the local SWAT team was assembled and a K9 operation was summoned.
Police officials spent the better part of the night in containment and pursuit and the suspect was finally taken into custody on the Titan Stadium track in front of the home, or south, grandstand as he apparently attempted to casually exit the property as daylight approached.
Of added concern to safety officials was the presence on campus of several vehicles belonging to SMHS students and families that were parked in the east lot while cast and crew members of the high school’s spring drama presentation of ‘Hairspray’ were attending an off-site wrap party following the show’s final production on Saturday night.
San Marino Fire Chief Jim Frawley became concerned since his son was attending the party, which reportedly was going on later than expected. Frawley did not want students to return to the campus and pick up their vehicles with a suspect still on the loose whom officers believed was in possession of a firearm, so he contacted adults at the party and encouraged them to help students find alternate transportation. Frawley spent the night at the containment scene along with members of his firefighter-paramedic.
Several San Marino Police officers were summoned to the site, including members of the regional FSET team including Aaron Blondé, Victor Gee and Patrice Garcia, who served as a crisis negotiator.
Rune received a call from the San Marino Police Dept. watch commander at approximately 11:40 p.m. Saturday night and made the decision to activate the response team, which Rune said was operational by 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning.
Officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Monrovia, Pasadena and Monterey Park Police Departments had already begun setting up a containment zone around the high school and into the bordering neighborhoods while a command post was created in the parking lot of HOWS Market.
“Our prerogative was to maintain the perimeter and containment of the school,” Rune told The Tribune. “We sent in the SWAT team in armored vehicles and two K-9 teams so we were conducting two simultaneous searches. It is a very detailed search because it is such a big school and there was also a belief that the suspect was in possession of a firearm.”
At 5:00 a.m., an officer found the black sweatshirt Bolczak had been seen wearing in surveillance footage taken at the 7-11 near the water district property at the north boundary of the high school.
“We knew we were getting close,” Rune said.
At 6:30 a.m., a sniper positioned atop the Titan Stadium press box using night vision equipment spotted a shirtless Bolczak emerging from the home bleachers, casually walking across the running track. A canine unit was dispatched and Bolczak was taken into custody “without resistance or incident,” according to Rune.
“The team did very, very well considering we had so many different agencies involved,” Rune said yesterday. “I was very impressed.”
He mentioned that operations such as the one conducted Sunday morning “take a lot more time than people might think. That is a big campus. The size and scope of our search was very large and we were also trying to protect the homes that border San Marino High School. Especially when there is a belief the suspect has a gun. That is a game-changer,” Rune said.
Authorities later searched the campus for a possible discarded weapon, but found nothing.
San Marino Police Chief Tim Harrigan arrived from his home at approximately the same time as Rune and assisted in the coordination of efforts between the FSET and served as “a resource for anything that would be specific to San Marino.”
“We have the commanders and the SWAT team I oversee, but I also need to be sure the needs of the city are being met,” said Harrigan, who called in extra officers to cover those who were entrenched in the containment zone.
“I thought the incident was handled extremely well, professionally, we had enough resources and the city was well-covered.” Harrigan said. “The FSET did a great job. They had previously trained [at San Marino High School] and that was mentioned in the debriefing as one of the factors that made the operation a success. These officers were familiar with the site.”
At about 5:00 a.m., Harrigan left the command post and traveled to city hall, where he notified City Manager John Schaefer, who was in Chicago, 0and Superintendent Loren Kleinrock.
Rune believed it had been “about two years” since the FSET was last deployed to San Marino.
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