Tongan suspects jailed in smash-and-grab robbery at USA’s Sunnyvale jewellery store


Five suspects were arrested Wednesday following a brazen, daytime smash-and-grab robbery at a Sunnyvale jewelry store involving nearly two dozen suspects and a police chase, authorities said.

(Clockwise from upper left) Afuhia Lavakeiaho, Ofa Ahomana, Kilifi Leaaetoa, Tonga Latu, Tavake Esafe

The Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety (DPS) said the robbery happened Wednesday afternoon just before 1:30 p.m. at PNG Jewelers at the Hacienda Shopping Center on the 700 block of E. El Camino Real.

Surveillance video from the store showed the scene as about 20 suspects swarmed the store, using hammers and other tools to break jewelry display cases and steal the merchandise. Suspect then fled in multiple vehicles before officers arrived, DPS said. 

Officers located two suspect vehicles and tried to pull them over, but both vehicles fled, triggering two separate chases on northbound U.S. Highway 101, according to authorities. One pursuit ended after officers lost track of the vehicle, while the during the chase of the second vehicle, the suspects were seen throwing some of the stolen jewelry out of the window, DPS said.

The pursuit of the second vehicle ended when officers lost sight of it, but the vehicle was found a short time later abandoned on Highway 101 near Whipple Avenue in Redwood City. Five suspects from the vehicle ran across the freeway and into a nearby industrial area, where four of them were arrested near Industrial Road and Brittan Avenue in San Carlos, DPS said.

Sunnyvale jewelry store robbery suspects
(Clockwise from upper left) Afuhia Lavakeiaho, Ofa Ahomana, Kilifi Leaaetoa, Tonga Latu, Tavake EsafeSUNNYVALE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY

The fifth suspect was found nearby and arrested after being stopped by a police K-9 as he attempted to escape, DPS said.

The suspects were identified as Tonga Latu, Tavake Esafe, Ofa Ahomana, Kilifi Leaaetoa, and Afuhia Lavakeiaho. Their ages and hometowns were not provided. The five were booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail on charges of armed robbery, felony vehicle evasion, resisting arrest, burglary, conspiracy to commit a crime, vandalism, possession of burglary tools, and outstanding warrants. 

Some of the stolen jewelry has been recovered; the total value of the jewelry stolen was not immediately known. No one was hurt during the robbery and police chase.  

Other law enforcement agencies involved were the California Highway Patrol, Palo Alto Police Department, Belmont Police Department, South San Francisco Police Department, and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office. 

Sunnyvale DPS investigators were trying to determine if the robbery is related to another robbery of a jewelry store in Sunnyvale that occurred in May which involved multiple suspects.

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