2 robbers die in brazen gunfight on street 6 officers, 3 civilians hurt in exchange with bandits

March 01, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES -- In warlike pursuit captured on live TV, dozens of police officers tracked down and killed two heavily armed bank robbers yesterday in the face of blistering machine-gun fire. The spectacular eruption of military firepower draped a shroud of fear over a vast residential area of the eastern San Fernando Valley, north of downtown.

Six police officers and three civilians were hit by gunfire in a confrontation that recalled the apocalyptic 1974 gunbattle between police and the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Maoist kidnappers of Patty Hearst.

In one scene shown on national television, one robber -- braced for battle in a bulletproof vest -- nonchalantly strode across the bank parking lot, spraying bullets at outgunned officers moments before he was shot to death on a nearby residential street. Police gunned him down while he apparently stepped out from a hiding spot to face his death.

Neither robber had been identified by last night. None of the officers or civilians wounded by gunfire was seriously injured.

The shooting spread rapidly down residential streets, sending pedestrians ducking for cover, scattering motorists and forcing homeowners behind locked doors to wait in fear and uncertainty for hours.

With an undetermined number of suspects still at large, police closed streets and freeways and even sealed off 10 nearby schools. Residents living within the battle zone were advised to stay home or to call 911 to get police escorts out.

In addition to the shooting victims, two officers and two motorists were injured in a collision as police raced through the area.

At least four heavily armed men -- suspects in earlier San Fernando Valley bank robberies -- were shooting as they stormed the bank at about 9: 30 a.m., said witnesses.

Barking commands, the masked gunmen herded dozens of terrified customers into the vault, some wounded by the gunfire.

A handful of police armed only with handguns arrived to confront the departing robbers and were engulfed in a gunfight, with combatants and bystanders virtually rubbing shoulders.

Retreating from the surrounded bank, one robber took cover behind the getaway car -- a white sedan -- as it crept across the parking lot, blasting away. He apparently fired a round through the car window, either hitting or just missing the driver. Then he walked away to a residential street, firing bursts of bullets along the way.

As police cautiously closed in, he crouched in shadows between a large truck and a fence, then stood. He exchanged fire with his pursuers, falling after first being hit, then jerking gruesomely from a shot to the head.

Pub Date: 3/01/97

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