A gun battle erupted Wednesday morning between a La Habra jewelry store owner and two robbers while three accomplices tried to smash into his display windows with a sledgehammer, police said.
Police are searching for the five men, who escaped after the store owner set off the store's alarm, La Habra Police Capt. Mike Burch said. Police believe at least one of the robbers was shot in the abdomen. Blood was found in the store.
Police said two of the bandits exchanged at least 10 gunshots with James Barr, 44, owner of Jim's Jewelry Store at 1230 W. Imperial Highway, when they attempted to rob him and his father, Sander (Sonny) Volp, 73, Burch said.
Window Resists Sledgehammer
Three other men tried to smash the store's front display window--which held several gold watches and rings--with a sledgehammer during the gun battle but succeeded only in cracking it, Burch said. When the store's alarm was pulled, the five men escaped in a car parked outside.
"It's amazing nobody in the family was shot," Police Lt. John Buchholz said. "There was a lot of gunfire in the store, and luckily no customers were around."
Shortly after the robbery attempt, a shaken Volp appeared in the store's doorway, flanked by cracked and bullet-riddled display windows. "I'm OK," said the slight, gray-haired man. "I'm not hurt, nobody's hurt here. Thank God."
Volp's wife, who also was in the store at the time, was not injured.
Burch said the robbery attempt may be related to a spree of "smash-and-grab" robberies in Orange and Los Angeles counties. He cited a similar robbery that took place in a Buffums Department store in La Habra last November, when several young men smashed display counters with a sledgehammer and stole $70,000 in jewelry. He also mentioned similar robberies in Santa Ana and Buena Park.
"I would be surprised if this case was not connected. It was the same kind of operation," Burch said.
Police conducted an unsuccessful, door-to-door search with dog teams and a helicopter in a neighborhood one block away from the store on Olive Tree Drive, where the getaway car was abandoned with its motor running. Burch said they are investigating whether another car may have been waiting in the area.
The abandoned car, a Chevrolet Caprice Classic station wagon, was reported stolen earlier in North Hollywood, La Habra Police Sgt. Phil Stufflebean said.
The robbery attempt began about 10:15 a.m. when one man entered the store and asked Volp for directions to a gas station, Burch said. Moments later, another man walked in and stood in front of a display counter with his hand in his pocket.
Barr, who was sitting in the store's mezzanine, an elevated work area at the rear of the store, saw the man reach into his pocket and pull out a gun, according to police. Barr took his gun from a shelf and fired at the man. The two men exchanged shots. Police said one bullet penetrated the store wall and broke a window next door; another bullet shattered the store's display window.
Suspicious Men Seen
When Barr ran out of ammunition, he set off the store's alarm and the men ran to the waiting car and sped away, police said.
Neighboring shopkeepers talked fearfully Wednesday about the gunfight and robbery attempt. And one store owner said that suspicious-looking men were seen in the area outside the jewelry store Tuesday afternoon, possibly surveying the shop in advance.
Lillian Moloian, whose beauty supply shop is two doors away, said the gunshots just kept going on and on.
"My whole store just seemed like it was shaking from the noise," Moloian said. "I was scared, and I was afraid for them."
Ralph Sanchez, owner of a chicken pie store three doors away from the jewelry store, said Wednesday that he saw a white car pull into the shopping center parking lot Tuesday between 4:30 and 6 p.m.
He said the three men in the car "looked paranoid and suspicious."
"When they saw I was looking at them, they took off," Sanchez said. "I kept thinking about those guys even today."
Joe Salem, 21, who was across the street during Wednesday's holdup attempt, told police he saw the men run out of the store and into the car.
"At first, I didn't think they were gunshots until I saw all the birds fly away from the sound," Salem said. "Then I saw the guys run to the car, and one of them was leaning forward and holding his stomach. He couldn't open the car door, and the other guy had to help him in."
Police described the robbers as black men in their early to middle 20s, wearing dark clothing.
United Press International contributed to this story.