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Bank Heist Goes Smoothly--and So Does Arrest

February 10, 1996|MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The bank heist went down like clockwork--at least as far as the authorities were concerned.

Approximately 15 minutes after allegedly robbing a Bank of America branch in Westlake on Friday morning, Christopher Michael Jackson and Rodolfo Zamaro, both of Oxnard, were cuffed and in custody. They were apprehended following a brief pursuit on the Ventura Freeway.

The suspects never had much of a chance, authorities said, thanks to a witness who alerted the Ventura County Sheriff's Department after he noticed Zamaro waiting nervously in the getaway vehicle, as well as to two deputies who spotted the red pickup and gave chase, and a helicopter unit that trailed the pursuit to its conclusion in Oxnard.

"It was a textbook operation," said Chief Deputy Bob Brooks at an afternoon press conference. "We had alert, responsible witnesses at the scene providing us with good information."

Special Agent Larry Dick of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Ventura office said he believes that Zamaro, 22, robbed the same Bank of America location on Westlake Boulevard last November. Surveillance photos from the Nov. 6 heist bear more than a slight resemblance to Zamaro, Dick said.

The two men were being held Friday in Ventura County Jail on $50,000 bail each.Because Jackson, 24, allegedly pointed a handgun at a teller during the robbery, the men will face an additional five years in prison if convicted, Dick said.

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The fifth bank robbery in Ventura County this year went down like this, authorities said:

Shortly before 10 a.m., Jackson entered the Bank of America branch wearing a dark-colored jacket, blue jeans and an Orlando Magic baseball cap. There were about 15 employees, and 10 to 15 customers in the bank at the time, Dick said.

Jackson then brandished a blue steel handgun, and instead of simply showing it to bank employees as robbers usually do, he pulled it from his waistband and waived it toward the tellers, Dick said. A teller immediately gave Jackson the money at her station.

Meanwhile, Zamaro was sitting in a red 1983 Chevrolet pickup truck in a Vons supermarket parking lot in an adjacent mall. A middle-age man who was waiting at the Vons to pick up empty boxes spotted Zamaro, and noticed that he seemed fidgety and uneasy, Dick said.

"He just kept watching [Zamaro], and all of a sudden he saw the black guy [Jackson] jump into the car," Dick said. "He wrote down the license plate."

The man called in a description of the getaway vehicle, and two deputies driving north on the Ventura Freeway noticed a truck with the same features near the Ventu Park offramp in Newbury Park. They gave chase and notified a helicopter unit based in Camarillo, which had been on alert after the heist was reported.

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Zamaro drove the speed limit over the Conejo Grade and past Camarillo to Oxnard, as three other police cruisers and the helicopter unit caught up to the pursuit. By 10:10 a.m., deputies had stopped the pickup on the freeway between Del Norte Boulevard and Rice Avenue.

Jackson and Zamaro did not resist arrest, and were apprehended immediately. Afterward, police found an undisclosed amount of money and a .38-caliber blue steel handgun beneath the pickup truck's bench seat, officials said.

Deputy Mark Gillette, one of the officers at the scene, said Jackson told police that if it had not been for the helicopter unit, he would have tried to flee on foot.

"But he saw the helicopter and had second thoughts," Gillette said.

Police drove several of the witnesses from the bank past the handcuffed suspects, a procedure known as a "drive-by-lineup," and they fingered Jackson and Zamaro. Dick said he planned to interview the men at length to determine if they have been involved in other bank robberies.

Workers at the Bank of America in Westlake declined to comment, but John Stafford, a Bank of America spokesman in San Francisco, said the two recent robberies were the only incidents he was aware of at that location since the bank began keeping detailed crime records 2 1/2 years ago.

Meanwhile, business was back to normal at the Westlake branch less than an hour after the heist. Tellers informed curious customers that a robbery had just occurred while bank employees unloaded surveillance cameras, looking for evidence.

"I'm just glad they got them, that's all I can say," said one bank customer, who asked not to be identified. "I'm just glad they did."

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Times staff writer Christina Lima contributed to this story.

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