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Stunned police, residents cope with aftermath of L.A. shootout

Cruiser March 1, 1997
Web posted at: 11:30 p.m. EST

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- All was quiet Saturday in West Hollywood, although scores of bullet-ridden cars and buildings served as silent reminders of a bloody bank heist shootout here Friday.

Armen Iskaudaryan, who was depositing $85 at an automatic teller machine when gunmen burst into the Bank of America branch, returned Saturday to drive home his car, a late model Acura Legend he had saved for six years to buy.

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It was riddled with bullets and except for the rear passenger window, every piece of glass in the car had been blown away.

He changed a flat tire and tried to drive away. Gasoline leaked. Oil leaked. The Fire Department had to be called.

"It was my only car," he said. "It don't know. I cannot fix it."

LAPD unprepared


Like Iskaudaryan, the Los Angeles Police Department was unprepared for the frightening firepower displayed by two bank robbers, who fired hundreds of rounds at police after the heist went awry.

"These guys obviously were committed to getting away and were prepared to do so," police Chief Willie Williams said Saturday. "They emptied a 100-round drum before they even left the door of the bank."

Police refused to identify the two robbers, who wounded 16 officers and civilians Friday along their escape route. He wouldn't comment on whether they were part of any organized group, but said investigators believed they were acting alone.

"We're just beginning now to take a look at their background," Williams said. "These two guys made up their mind: Get away, or go down at the scene."

Police suspect the two gunmen were the same who committed bank robberies last year. Both eventually were killed in the shootout with police.


Williams commended the skill and bravery of more than 200 officers who took part in the seige. "When they were faced with overwhelming firepower they had to do some things that weren't in the book," the chief said.

Police badly outgunned

That none were more seriously hurt was remarkable, considering that until the heavily armed SWAT units arrived, patrol officers with pistols were up against automatic rifles and armor-piercing ammunition.


Police were still sorting out the gunmen's arsenal, but it appeared that each man had at least one AK-47 automatic rifle or a similar SKS rifle, and had 100-round ammunition drums and 30-round clips, Lt. Nicholas Zingo said.

Both weapons, originally designed for the Soviet military but widely cloned by gunmakers worldwide, fire powerful 7.62x39mm cartridges.

The gunmen fired steel-jacketed bullets easily capable of penetrating body armor worn by patrol officers, Cmdr. Tim McBride said.

"Maybe an armored tank would stop these rounds," Zingo said. "If our officers were hit in the chest cavity area they would have been dead..."

The mismatch prompted Zingo to send officers out for more firepower. The nearby gun shop, B&B; Sales, provided two AR-15s, the civilian version of the Army's M-16 assault rifle, a shotgun and rifles with telescopic sights.

"We can't give all our officers AK-47s," said the LAPD's Williams. "But we are outgunned, and we need to find ways to narrow the gap."


Added Sgt. Sam Layton of the LAPD: "I'm going to be carrying more ammo with me."

The police are on the defensive as bank robbers are becoming increasingly well-armed and ruthless. The number of bank robberies has gone down steadily from its peak in 1992, but the violent nature of many robberies has gone up.

"It's gone away from the single-note passing day of 'just give me the money' this type of gang take-over with heavily-armed individuals," said Bill Wipprecht of the California Bankers Association.

The Correspondent Jim Hill & Associated Press contributed to this report.  


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