Neighbors help catch Berkeley teen girls behind brazen robbery

BERKELEY, Calif. (KTVU) - Quick-thinking neighbors and a botched escape plan led to the arrest of four teenage girls in Berkeley Sunday for a brazen robbery that happened around 12:30 p.m. that afternoon.

It happened at the corner of Claremont and Brookside avenues in Berkeley.

The victim was an 18-year-old Cal freshman who happened to be walking through the neighborhood.

"Everybody on this block knows each other. The age of their kids, their phone numbers," said a neighbor who wanted to remain anonymous.

"There's always somebody to call if you need help," said Carol O'Day of her tight-knit neighborhood.

O'Day also described the neighborhood as "very safe," and an unlikely place for a robbery in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.

A neighbor who identified himself only as "Jack" said he was driving home Sunday afternoon when he saw four teenage girls beating up and robbing a woman at the corner of Claremont and Brookside avenues.

He said the teens ripped off the woman's backpack, took her wallet, yanked the necklace off her neck and grabbed her cell phone while they "punched her in the head." Jack said the teens jumped into a nearby van.

"They jumped into this white van, thinking they would escape this street, which I knew they couldn't," he said. Brookside Avenue is really a cul-de-sac, with only one way in and one way out.

Jack said a woman driving by in her minivan with her kids inside, also saw the robbery and beating. Jack said she pulled over to try and write down the getaway car's license plate number.

Jack said he told her to instead "leave your car there, that van isn't going anywhere," knowing that the street was a dead-end. The mom's van blocked the exit to the street.

"She was the hero in the case," Jack said of the minivan-driving mom. "The kids drove up, slammed on the breaks in their van, and realized they couldn't get out, so they jumped out and ran."

By then, several other neighbors had heard the commotion and called 9-1-1.

Police found the girls, running away as a group, several blocks away. Police arrested a 14 year old and three 16 year olds for robbery.

"They all stayed together, so they were relatively easy to catch because the police response was so timely," Jack said.

Investigators are still trying to track down the person the teens' white getaway van belonged to, but said it may have been a stolen vehicle.

"In this case nobody was hurt, and it worked out," said officer Jenn Coats with the Berkeley Police Department.

She added, "We just want people to be aware of their safety. You never know if somebody committing this type of crime is armed, or if they potentially could have attacked or rammed her vehicle."

Jack says in hindsight, he might have done things differently.

"The bigger worry later in hindsight is - do they have guns? Because I didn't think about that," he admitted.

He's not celebrating the arrests as a victory.

"It's a very sad situation from our perspective," he said of his and other neighbors' reactions to the crime. "What's leading 14 and 16 year olds to do this kind of stuff?"

While he's glad he helped their victim, Jack said the four troubled teens who committed the robbery need some help too.