Adult and juvenile arrested on suspicion of robbing bridge toll plazas

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Toll takers have been terrorized by armed robbers at least five times during November and December, until a CHP investigation resulted in two arrests this week. 

One surveillance photo, taken a few days after Christmas, shows a masked bandit shoving his gun through a toll booth window.

"It's basically an occupational hazard. You're dealing with a lot of money, like being a bank teller or anything else," Bay Bridge toll collector Trevor Green told KTVU.

Green admits it's been the talk of the toll plaza, and not just at the Bay Bridge.

Hitting always after dark, the two robbers have brandished weapons and demanded money at the Benicia Bridge and the Carquinez Bridge as well.

The suspects used different vehicles in the holdups, to avoid identification.

No shots were ever fired, but in one incident, a toll collector was beaten.  

"People don't think of this job as dangerous but it is," observed Green, "because anything could happen at any time."

This week, warrants were served at several Vallejo locations, and police arrested 21-year-old Marco Villagomez-Guerrero, along with a 17-year-old accomplice.

Officers also seized two assault rifles, three handguns, several replica firearms, plus masks and gloves.

Investigators believe the pair robbed several convenience stores as well as toll booths.

"Invariably we're going to catch these guys and we're grateful that we did, " Randy Rentschler of the Bay Area Toll Authority told KTVU.

Rentschler notes such robberies aren't common, given that toll plazas are well lit, well-staffed, and crawling with cameras, but they have always been part of the job.

"The Golden Gate Bridge toll takers originally carried weapons, they were deputized as police officers. So this kind of goes back to the 1930's, wherever's there's cash, we have to be careful," he said. 

Driving onto a bridge to commit a robbery would seem to offer little escape, but the CHP  says it's impossible to have officers stationed at both ends of bridges, or in the vicinity.

Some toll takers wonder if an armed guard might make their work safer.    

"Banks have security, even corner stores that cash checks have armed security on site," mused Green. "I don't know if anything could stop it, but it would definitely deter it." 

Fastrak has reduced the need for large amounts of cash at the toll plazas, and money is retrieved regularly so that it doesn't accumulate.

If Caltrans shifts to fully automated toll collection, as it is studying, then there won't be any cash, or toll takers, left on the state-owned spans.