Armed man barricaded in hotel ties up I-580 traffic

August 17, 2011 11:48:20 PM PDT
Traffic in the North Bay was tied up all day Wednesday after a gunman barricaded himself inside a hotel room in San Rafael that overlooks Interstate 580. The standoff has continued into the night and authorities are warning people to prepare for it to impact the morning commute.

The suspect is holed up inside the Extended Stay Deluxe on Francisco Boulevard. The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge was closed entirely for several hours earlier Wednesday. It reopened Wednesday afternoon, but westbound traffic remained backed up throughout the evening commute because the California Highway Patrol was detouring everyone once they get over the bridge into Marin County.

All westbound traffic has to exit at Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, go over to Highway 101, and then up to I-580, past the stand-off. A 1.3 mile stretch of I-580 is closed right now in front of the hotel.

The incident began Wednesday morning when authorities attempted to contact the man at the hotel, but the incident's origins go back to Sunday evening, when the man is believed to have been involved in an attempted robbery and stabbing at a San Rafael grocery store.

It all started in the liquor aisle of the grocery store, where employees say the man was trying to steal food and alcohol. An undercover security guard spotted him and half a dozen employees surrounded the man as he tried to leave.

But when they got him upstairs to the security office, the man grabbed one of the guards and held him at knife point, before making a run for it.

He stabbed one of the butchers in the chest, slashed a bakery clerk on the arm and then jumped into what the owner says was a stolen car, before gunning the engine and heading straight for the security guard who initially spotted him.

Store owner Bill Daniels says everything was caught on surveillance video. The police have that video now and it is one of the reasons they are convinced the man involved in Sunday's incident is the same one holed up in the hotel.

Police have confirmed to ABC7 News that the armed man has barricaded himself with a woman, believed to be his girlfriend, in a second floor room in the Extended Stay Deluxe. Police say the man fired a shot from the hotel window towards the I-580, leading to the freeway closure and standoff.

One guest told ABC7 the suspect actually called down to the lobby.

"He said, 'You better tell those cops that I'm going to kill this woman right now if you don't get me out of here, and I want a pack of cigarettes," he said.

"My sister and I came down from our hotel room, which is on the side of the building, down to get some stuff from the car, and I heard some gunshots, like it was coming from a machine gun on the freeway side of the hotel and I said to my sister, 'I think I just heard some gunshots,' we already knew that something was going on, but we weren't sure what," evacuee Logan Martin said.

Seventy-five police officers and sheriff's deputies from multiple agencies spent the day at the scene trying to convince the man to surrender.

"We are talking with him, our negotiators are talking with him, and we're taking it slowly and we just want to bring this to a peaceful conclusion for everybody," San Rafael police spokesperson Margo Rohrbacher said.

The SWAT team has brought in an armored personnel carrier to try to help them get closer to the hotel.

Forty-six hotel guests were evacuated. The Red Cross took some of the guests to an evacuation center.

Some guests who are staying in parts of the hotel away from the standoff have been allowed to stay at the property.

Nearby businesses were also been contacted by police and asked to let their employees go home early.

There have been no injuries, but the freeay backup has brought its own set of problems. The CHP reports motorists have run out of gas on the bridge and they have responded to at least one road rage incident related to the congestion. Even alternate routes have seen severe backups.


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