Three banks robbed in St. Lucie County

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. - ST. LUCIE COUNTY -- Three banks are thought to have been robbed this morning as part of a plan by a group of people, according to St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara and other law enforcement officials.

Shots were fired at one of the locations in Port St. Lucie.

Four men and one women were taken into custody in Port St. Lucie after an undercover sheriff's vehicle ran a white Chrysler into a ditch on Southwest Aster Road.

What appeared to be a bullet hole pierced the Chrysler's front driver's side window, as a pile of cash and two blue sneakers sat just outside its door.

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Mascara said it was here that at least one Port St. Lucie police officer exchanged gunfire with at least one person in the Chrysler.

No one was struck by the gunfire, he said.

"We think it was a concerted effort by a group of people — a gang," Mascara said, standing at the scene. "FBI is here because they have evidence that this has occurred throughout the state at different locations."

One of the banks robbed was a PNC on St. James Drive in Port St. Lucie, according to Master Sgt. Frank Sabol, Port St. Lucie police spokesman. Mascara said one person was taken into custody in connection with that incident in the area of the Oxbow Eco Center.

The other banks robbed were identified as a PNC and SunTrust, both in Fort Pierce. All the banks were robbed within minutes of each other, Mascara said.

Mascara said money in the white Chrysler, which remained at the scene in Port St. Lucie as of 11:50 a.m., had a tracker.

"Our undercover detectives were following the vehicle and they chased it in here, ran it off the road and Port St. Lucie police officers and the suspects exchanged gunfire right there," he said.

More than a dozen Port St. Lucie police officers, sheriff's deputies and other emergency personnel jammed the scene.

One woman was led off in handcuffs and put in the back of a police cruiser.

Yellow crime scene tape blocked off the area, which is west of Florida's Turnpike just off Port St. Lucie Boulevard.

Norma Ducille, 58, lives about two houses away from where the white Chrysler was run off Southwest Aster Road.

"First of all I saw flashing lights, then I heard the helicopter, then I heard about three shots, then I ran inside because I'm scared," Ducille said.

Ducille said she was watching her two grandchildren at the time and initially thought fireworks were being shot off.

She said such activity is out of the ordinary.

"This is a safe neighborhood," she said. "We live here for 10 years."

Here's the timeline of what officials are saying happened:

--At 9:08 a.m., a lone robber took money from the Sun Trust Bank in the 700 lock of Virginia Avenue, Fort Pierce.

--At 9:14 a.m. Port St. Lucie police learned of a robbery at the PNC Bank in the 5400 block of Northeast St. James Drive where two armed men were inside and one outside.

The two took an undisclosed amount of money and fled. Sheriff's deputies caught one of them at the Oxbow Eco Center on St. James Drive near the bank.

--At 9:30 a.m. the Fort Pierce Police Department learned of the city's second bank robbery at the PNC Bank in the 4100 block of Okeechobee Road. Three armed men entered the bank and got away with money.

--At 9:57 a.m. sheriff's deputies and Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie police stopped a white Chrysler sedan in Port St. Lucie in connection with the robberies, and shots were fired. No one was hit. Four people in the sedan are in custody.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

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