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Police Say Watch Shop Owner Kills 4th, 5th Suspects

February 21, 1992|NIESON HIMMEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Armed robbers keep gambling that they can hold up The Watch Co. in West Los Angeles.

And they keep losing.

Two more were shot to death Thursday at the small shop where owner Lance Thomas buys and sells expensive Rolex watches and antique pocket timepieces, police said.

That brings the total to five killed and one wounded at the shop since August, 1989.

Shortly after 4 p.m., two men armed with semiautomatic pistols entered the shop in the 12100 block of Santa Monica Boulevard and "made their intentions known," said Los Angeles Police Lt. Ron Hall. "One of them fired a shot at an employee," he said.

The employee was not hurt, and he and Thomas returned fire, the lieutenant said. Detectives have not determined whose shots struck which gunman, Hall said, but a preliminary investigation indicates that Thomas shot one man and the employee shot the other.

One robbery suspect was found dead in front of the counter, the other in the doorway, police said. The employee and the two gunmen were not identified.

A passerby standing across the street suffered a superficial gunshot wound to the buttocks and was taken to St. John Medical Center in Santa Monica, police said. His condition was not available.

Hall said the gunmen, who appeared to be in their late teens or early 20s, apparently were not part of a sophisticated gang that has been robbing jewelry stores throughout the Los Angeles area for more than a year.

"These are the kind of guys who hold up a bag and say: 'Fill it,' " Hall said.

Thomas has long made it known that no robber would walk out of his store. Nearby merchants say that Thomas can arm himself with one of four guns no matter where he is in his shop.

"He's very proficient in the use of guns, and he knows when to use them," Hall said Thursday.

During a robbery attempt in August, 1989, Thomas wounded a gunman just below the nose. The man has been sentenced to prison.

Three months later, Thomas shot and killed two armed robbery suspects who had wounded him in the neck and shoulder.

Last December, a man and a woman entered his shop asking about repairs for a broken watch. The man vaulted the counter, drew a gun and said he was robbing the store. The intruder managed to shoot Thomas in the neck, but the shopkeeper grabbed two semiautomatic weapons and shot the gunman dead, police said. The woman escaped.

Hall, commander of detectives at the LAPD's West Los Angeles station, said all of Thomas' previous shootings were ruled justifiable, adding that he believed the two Thursday will be ruled likewise.

Shortly after 8 p.m., two women arrived at the store sobbing uncontrollably. One woman said that one of the slain gunmen was her son. Neither woman was identified, and police took them to the West Los Angeles station for questioning.

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