A police pursuit put a Petaluma elementary school on lockdown Friday afternoon for over an hour after four suspects in a Windsor AT&T store theft led authorities on a 23-mile chase reaching speeds up to 110 miles per hour on Highway 101, according to initial reports.
At least three of the men were in custody within 20 minutes of them bailing out of the suspect vehicle near Petaluma's East Washington and Ellis streets, where McKinley Elementary School was locked down about 1:50 p.m., emergency dispatchers and a school representative said.
The lockdown was lifted by police and school officials about 3 p.m., according to Petaluma City Schools Superintendent Steve Bolman. He said he understood that police had either taken the fourth suspect into custody or cleared the area and determined it was safe to re-open the school.
Petaluma police could not immediately be reached to provide an update on the incident.
Diana Cannon, a McKinley secretary, said students were safe during the lockdown, with a large police presence at the school. About 50 parents had gathered outside the school at 2:50 p.m. to pick up children, Cannon said. They were being addressed by Principal Matthew Harris. The school day normally ends at 2:45 p.m.
The entire episode proved alarming to area residents and employees as a large group of law enforcement vehicles and the Sonoma County sheriff's helicopter converged on the area west of Highway 101, near the school and the Petaluma Town Plaza Shopping Center.
The incident reportedly began with the theft of several smart phones by at least three men at the AT&T Cellular World store on Hembree Lane in Windsor, according to emergency and store personnel.
Officers catching up with the suspect vehicle on southbound Highway 101 around 1:35 p.m. clocked it at speeds up to 110 mph and noted it using the center median and the shoulder to pass other motorists.
(You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)