A motorist who rolled a stakebed truck on its side alongside the 210 Freeway Thursday after leading authorities on a chase from Santa Fe Springs into Riverside and San Bernardino counties is believed to be the so-called Hills Bandit wanted for a string of bank heists in Orange and San Diego counties.

Stephen Richard Bartlett, 53, was arrested about 1 p.m. when he crashed at the end of the 90-minute chase, during which he drove the wrong way on a busy freeway.

Police were called about 10:15 a.m. by a Santa Fe Springs commercial steel business that reported a possible fraud involving a $12,000 steel order, according to Whittier police. Officers tried to stop the suspect as he drove out of the business in the truck, but he drove off.

The pursuit continued on multiple freeways, briefly reaching into La Habra before the driver headed east on the Pomona (60) Freeway into Riverside and drove north on the 215 Freeway toward San Bernardino.

At one point, the motorist drove south in the northbound lanes of the 215 Freeway, then stopped in the carpool lane and tried to climb over a median fence, but he got back in the truck and made a U-turn across all lanes, and continued north again into San Bernardino County.

Around 1 p.m., the driver was heading west on the 210 Freeway just west of the 215 Freeway when he lost control and went off the side of the road. The truck briefly went airborne and then rolled onto the driver’s side. After several minutes, the driver crawled out of the passenger-side door and surrendered to authorities.

Bartlett, whose driver’s license shows an address in Nevada, is suspected of causing two crashes during the chase, one of them involving a California Highway Patrol vehicle, according to the CHP.

While being chased in Santa Fe Springs, he threw a gun from the vehicle that was recovered and found to be a replica black semiautomatic, according to Whittier police.

Bartlett was taken to a hospital for treatment of minor injuries and will be held at the Whittier Police Department Jail, police said, adding that he was being booked on suspicion of felony theft, felony evading, felony vehicle embezzlement, two hit-and-run collisions and for warrants that allege, among other things, bank robbery.

On Aug. 22, a suspect believed to be the Hills Bandit struck a sixth bank, getting away with an undisclosed amount of cash from a Wells Fargo branch in Laguna Niguel, Orange County sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Hallock said.

The same suspect was believed to have struck Aug. 5 at a U.S. Bank branch in Carlsbad, a Wells Fargo branch May 16 in Laguna Hills, a Citibank in Laguna Hills on July 16 and another Citibank in Lake Forest on July 25, according to the FBI.

He is also a suspect in an Aug. 8 holdup in Laguna Woods, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

— City News Service

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