A man believed to be the elusive "Stretch Bandit," wanted in the robberies of at least 16 area supermarkets, was arrested yesterday in Fairfax County after a phone call to the Alexandria police Crime Solvers line.

Tyrone Jethro Wyche, 41, was arrested shortly after 7:30 a.m. at a Days Inn at 6100 Richmond Hwy. in the Mount Vernon area, according to Fairfax police spokesman Warren G. Carmichael. Police had nicknamed the suspect the "Stretch Bandit" because of his 6-foot-9 frame.

Carmichael said the arrest was "the result of widespread media exposure Thursday and Friday."

"What it does prove is that the media can be very helpful in this type of situation," Carmichael said. "There will be a reward paid. But to whom, and the amount, I don't know."

The arrest occurred without incident, and Wyche was held without bond on six counts of robbery at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. Before the arrest, police surrounded the motel to prevent escape and then knocked on the door. Wyche answered the door and was arrested, Carmichael said.

Although the suspect's size made him readily identifiable, the Stretch Bandit repeatedly eluded police. Just last week police announced a $1,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

Supermarkets in Alexandria and Fairfax City, and Prince William, Prince George's, Montgomery, Loudoun and Fairfax counties, were robbed by a man similar to a description of Wyche since Aug. 9. The latest robbery occurred at a Super Fresh store in Silver Spring.

Wyche's last known address was in the 1600 block of Duke Street, Alexandria.

Police said the robber's approach was similar in most cases. He walked into the store and either bought something or waited until a cashier opened a register. He kept one hand in his pocket and indicated that he had a gun. He grabbed the money and fled. There have been no injuries in any of the robberies.

In Fairfax, police said the man robbed four stores since Aug. 9, including Giant, Shoppers Food Warehouse and Safeway. Montgomery police said the suspect has hit four stores there. He has robbed at least one Giant store in Prince George's. All the holdups occurred between 5 and 11 p.m. police said.

Area police departments discovered they were looking for the same suspect when investigators met at a monthly meeting last week. Investigators discussed the suspect and circulated a photo of Wyche at the meeting. Police then asked anyone with information about the suspect to call the Crime Solvers line.

Police said a man fitting Wyche's description eluded Montgomery police Wednesday night after he robbed the Super Fresh store. A police officer stopped such a man driving a truck. When the officer ordered the man out of the truck, the man drove off. The officer chased the truck a few blocks, but the man got out of the truck and fled.

"This guy stands out like a sore thumb," said Sgt. Chuck Cooke, of the Prince George's police. "It's kind of hard to maintain a low profile when you're 6-9, 230-odd pounds."