NOVATO (CBS SF) – Five suspects were in custody and four remained at large following a series of armed home invasion robberies in Petaluma that led to a pursuit to a neighborhood in Novato where residents were asked to shelter in place Monday morning for over five hours, authorities said.
Sonoma County sheriff's deputies responded shortly after 3 a.m. to multiple reports of armed home invasion robberies on Eugenia Drive and learned that the suspects targeted three different homes, according to the sheriff's office.
The suspects kicked in doors and confronted homeowners while looking for marijuana, and at least one homeowner was tied up and pistol-whipped, sheriff's officials said.
"It sounds like these suspects when door to door, kicking in doors," said Sgt. Spencer Crum with the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office. "They tied up at least one person, pistol whipped them. They're looking for marijuana, however none of the three homes involved were selling, growing, involved in the marijuana industry in any way."
Petaluma police spotted two vehicles leaving the area and tried to pull them over but a pursuit ensued. One vehicle, a white rented minivan, stopped on southbound U.S. Highway 101 prior to the San Marin Drive exit and five suspects fled west from the vehicle, according to the sheriff's office.
Investigators found multiple firearms in and around the van. One suspect was captured nearby but the other four remain at large, sheriff's officials said.
The second suspect vehicle was found in the Novato Costco parking lot at 300 Vintage Way, where three suspects were taken into custody and one remains at large, according to the sheriff's office.
SWAT teams from four different agencies were assisting in the suspect search.
Novato police said shortly after 5:45 a.m. that they were assisting the sheriff's office in searching for suspects near the Fireman's Fund campus at 777 San Marin Drive.
At 7:20 a.m., police said they were asking residents in the area of Wood Hollow Drive to shelter in place.
Authorities said several of the suspects are from North Carolina.
The sheriff's spokesperson said this kind of home invasion robberies targeting marijuana grows is part of a trend in California since the legalization of recreational pot.
"The price has gone way down. It's cheap, it's easy to get and there's a lot of it," said Crum. "They can rip it off here in California and take it across state lines to sell it in different states where it's illegal and make two to three times the profit."
At 12:45 p.m., Novato police announced that SWAT teams had concluded their search for the suspects and lifted the shelter in place order. One suspect was located during the search.
Police said the four outstanding suspects -- described as four adult black males in dark clothing -- appeared to have left the area.
Police said they were working on leads with Sonoma County Sheriff's Office to locate the additional suspects.
Last month, suspects from Mississippi and Virginia were arrested in connection with a pair of home-invasion robberies in unincorporated Sonoma County outside Santa Rosa that left one man dead and a second victim injured. Five suspects were charged in the robberies.
One suspect, a documented member of the Crips gang from Richmond, Virginia, named Amber Hembree who goes by the nickname Skittles, remains at large in that case.
KPIX 5 spoke briefly with victims in Monday's home invasion robberies. The victims were shaken up and did not want to appear on camera. They did say that, while they did not have any pot, there was a grow operation in the area that was moved a few months back.
Anyone with information about the suspects in the home invasion are asked to get in touch with Novato police.
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