Suspects in Birco killing arraigned 

Three charged were allegedly fleeing police after a spree of robberies

Bail was set at $10 million for three suspects charged with murder in the death of San Francisco police Officer Nick-Tomasito Birco, after a van in which they were allegedly fleeing police slammed into Birco's patrol car.

At Friday's arraignment prosecutor George Butterworth said the defendants — Carl Lather, 20, Nicholas Smith, 22 and Steven Petrilli, 19 — had gone on a "robbery spree," which caused the police chase that resulted in Birco's death. Petrilli faces a sentencing enhancement because he was out on bail for burglary and lewd and lascivious conduct charges at the time of the incident.

On Wednesday morning at about 12:35, according to police, a man reported that he had been punched in the face and robbed while waiting at a bus stop in the 500 block of Bayshore Boulevard.

The man rode with officers and identified the suspects' van, which was reported stolen, nearby. As officers approached, police reported, the suspects fled, leading police on a high-speed chase that ended when the van slammed into the 39-year-old Bayview officer’s patrol car at the intersection of Felton and Cambridge streets in the Portola neighborhood.

Birco, a decorated five-year veteran of the force and former Marine, died at San Francisco General Hospital.

Petrilli, the suspected driver of the van, and Smith pleaded not guilty at the arraignment Friday to charges that included murder, manslaughter and robbery. Lather's arraignment was continued until Monday so that he could arrange for a lawyer. Meanwhile, Judge Carol Yaggy accepted Butterworth's recommended bail of $10 million.

San Francisco Police Officers Association President Gary Delagnes on Thursday railed against The City’s judges for being too lenient in granting bail. "I will find out why this piece of garbage is not incarcerated as we speak, because if he was where he is supposed to be, Officer Birco would still be alive," Delagnes said.

Police reported Friday that the three are suspected in two other robberies the same night of the fatal chase. They named them as suspects in a 9:30 p.m. robbery of an Asian male in a burgundy sedan near the intersection of Silver Avenue and Mission Street, and a robbery just after midnight of an Asian or Hispanic couple at a bus stop at Mission Street and Excelsior Avenue.

"We will vigorously prosecute this case and bring these defendants to justice," District Attorney Kamala Harris said in a written statement.

A fourth suspect, Jessica Chamberlain, is alleged to have been in the van during the chase and was arrested with the other three. She has not yet been charged, however, pending further investigation.

Birco's funeral will be held at St. Mary's Cathedral at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

amartin@examiner.com

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