March 2, 1997
Dodging Shell Casings In My Neighborhood
Well, it wasn’t that bad, really. But it was close. You may have seen something about the big botched bank robbery in the San Fernando Valley on your local news. People here in LA say it was the biggest, baddest, ugliest shoot-out between cops and robbers since the SLA gig in the 70’s. My, oh my.
The scene of said shooting was about two to three miles from my house. And the pictures were surreal. Friday morning, two guys just went commando at a bank. Wearing full body armor, waving AK-47’s, shooting at police, people, helicopters, buildings, cars … whatever they could see.
It started for me, like so many other mornings, in bed. My buddy Frank had called, letting me know that the cast of "Star Trek: Voyager" was appearing live on the "Fox After Breakfast" show. So I sleepily watched a bit of that, then crawled back into bed, calling Frank back to thank him.
After a few minutes of chatting, Frank changed the topic. "Buddy, are you still watching?" he said.
"No, should I be?"
"Well, there’s these guys with guns … and they’re shooting at people! Live on all the channels."
"No, really! In North Hollywood!"
"North Hollywood?" said I. "That’s just around the corner …"
So I got up, went back out to the television, and watched for the next five hours, as two men engaged in a bizarre stand-off and shoot-out with the police.
It wasn’t a scene out of a movie, it was a movie itself, with a beginning, middle, and end. The end, of course, came rather suddenly for one of the suspects. Wearing full body armor and a ski mask, he really left the police no other target than his head. Which police eventually took advantage of. Later, replaying the fatal shots, a local news station (NOT my KCAL, I should point out) had someone doing a "play-by-play" of the police response. When they got to this part of the tape, which showed a high-powered bullet taking out a man’s head, the commentator said, "And, here you can see police shot the suspect in the upper torso." The upper torso? Yeah, the "head" part of the upper torso! Call a spade a spade.
The other suspect tried to take over a car, failed, and was killed following a shoot-out with SWAT team members from a distance of about 20 feet.
The worst part was not knowing if other suspects were on the loose. Various reports had suspects placed at Laurel Canyon and Magnolia (one mile away) and Colfax and Chandler (probably less than a mile away). Eventually, it was determined these two nuts acted alone. As luck would have it, I had plans to be far away from the area that afternoon. Still, I was a bit nervous going down to my underground parking garage. I even worked up a quick line of hostage strategy – mostly along the lines of "you haven’t killed anyone yet, so why start now?" (Remarkably, of the more than a dozen people injured in connection with the shoot-out, all survived, and will recover. Except the "bad guys," of course.) Fortunately, the trip to my Nissan was uneventful.
Yes, Los Angeles. Land of TV Station bomb threats (see an earlier column for more info on that) and bloody bank shoot-outs. Sign me up for more "fun!"