It has been fifteen years since the nation watched the news of a bank robbery in North Hollywood that turned into a 44-minute shooting spree between the heavily-armed robbers and law enforcement officers.
On February 28, 1997, Larry Phillips, 31, and Emil Matasareanu, 27, carried out a plan to rob the Bank of America in North Hollywood. That day, the bank would have had over $750,000 at hand in order to be ready for payday. This would have been the biggest robbery for the duo, who allegedly committed several other bank heists in the area.
Around 9:30 that Friday morning, the pair arrived at the bank on Laurel Canyon Blvd. and set their watches. They anticipated an eight-minute response time from the Los Angeles Police Department after they walked into the bank. Police officials believe that the two men had also taken a few Phenobarbitals in order to keep their nerves under control.
The men did not, however, expect to be spotted by two LAPD North Hollywood Station officers who were patrolling the area at the time they exited their getaway car. The officers immediately called for backup for a potential robbery.
Inside the bank, Phillips and Matasareanu shot the teller windows out and made their way into the vault. By the time they exited the building with the money, LAPD had the bank surrounded and SWAT was heading that way. There were more than 300 sworn officers present at the scene, including off-duty officers that came in their gym clothes and bullet-proof vests.
News helicopters also soon arrived to hover over the scene, broadcasting the stunning events to the nation.
After officers shot out the tires on their Chevrolet Celebrity sedan, the two men separated and took off on foot. Phillips continued shooting at officers as he made his way down Archwood Street. When he could go no further, he turned the gun on himself and took his own life.
After failing to hijack a truck, Matasareanu engaged in a six-minute shootout with officers before collapsing from his injuries. He died at the scene before the ambulance could arrive.
During the 44-minute shooting spree, the robbers sprayed more than 1,100 armor-piercing rounds at nearby homes and LAPD officers. LAPD returned fire with 750 rounds.
Amazingly, the only deaths that day were of the two robbers. Six civilians and 11 police officers suffered injuries during the shootout.
This incident made it clear just how unprepared the LAPD was to fight suspects that are so heavily armed. Five officers had to borrow weapons and ammo from the nearby B&B Gun Shop in the midst of the gun fight.
Now, peace officers are permitted to buy assault weapons and the LAPD has received M-16s from the Department of Defense.
For many members of the community, this is a date that will forever remain in their memories. Nineteen officers were awarded the Medal of Valor for their efforts.
Source: North Hollywood shootout, 15 years later by Rick Orlov