By Daniel Wallis
(Reuters) - A suspected bank robber and a female hostage died on Wednesday in a shootout with California police after a car chase sparked by a bank robbery in which thieves seized three women as hostages, firing assault rifles as they fled.
The incident began with a mid-afternoon armed robbery at a branch of the Bank of the West in the city of Stockton, police said. Then the three male suspects grabbed the hostages and jumped into a getaway car.
"During the chase, the suspects continually shot at officers with AK-47 style rifles," the Stockton police department said in a statement, adding that nearby homes and many police cars were damaged in the spraying gunfire.
Officers pursued the car from Stockton to the nearby city of Lodi and then back into Stockton again, police said, in a chase that last just under an hour.
"Both communities were at huge risk and top concerns were the hostages, but also the suspects taking more hostages or killing uninvolved people," the statement added.
Two of the women were thrown from the suspects' car during the chase, the police said, one with a minor gunshot wound.
Another "large exchange of gunfire" took place after the suspects' car became disabled, police said.
"Ultimately, all three suspects were shot (one dead) and the third hostage was found in the vehicle deceased from gunfire," police said in the statement, adding that a major investigation involving multiple agencies had been launched.
(Reporting by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)