Advertisement

Bank Robbery in O.C. Ends in Fatal Shootout

March 20, 1997|THAO HUA and SCOTT MARTELLE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ORANGE — A man suspected of robbing the same Eldorado Bank branch three times allegedly tried again Wednesday, fatally shooting a security guard who wounded the robber in an exchange of gunfire, police said.

Michael McClellan, 54, a retired Long Beach police officer, was shot twice, once in the forehead, and died at the scene.

The gunman, whom police have not identified, underwent surgery Wednesday at Western Medical Center-Santa Ana for a critical wound to the chest.

Investigators said the three previous robberies at the bank, the last on Feb. 13, were committed by the same gunman, whose picture was posted there. He was so well known that at least one customer in the bank Wednesday recognized him, witnesses and police said.

About 10:15 a.m., a disheveled man in a purple baseball cap, sunglasses and an olive coat approached a teller, waving a revolver and demanding "all the fifties and hundreds," said Cory Gilleland, who was interviewing for a job as a bank teller.

Gilleland, 22, of Orange, said that he and the bank manager had been talking about security at the bank and the three previous holdups when the robbery occurred. The bank manager said, "It's him! It's him!" as other employees who recognized the robber hit the silent alarm, Gilleland said.

The robber "told everybody to 'Get down. Get down, or I'll kill you,' " Gilleland said.

"I just felt helpless," Gilleland said.

The robber was holding a gun on employees and customers when the plainclothes security guard walked down a flight of stairs and surprised him from behind with his gun drawn, Gilleland said.

Six to eight shots were fired, and McClellan was shot in the stomach and the head, police said.

McClellan had planned to quit his job on Friday and go mine for gold in Nevada, a business partner said.

"Certainly the security guard is a hero," Orange Police Lt. Ed Tunstall said. "He could very well have prevented somebody else in the bank from getting hurt."

The robber walked "backward out of the bank, mumbling, 'Damn you. Damn you. It didn't have to happen like this,' " Gilleland said. "Then he stumbled out the same way he came in."

He staggered past a wanted poster from previous robberies and collapsed in the parking lot, a gun still in his hand, witnesses said.

"He was grabbing his side and fiddling with his pockets, almost as if he was trying to reload or something," Gilleland said.

Dayle Haase and Louise Fliss were sitting at their desks at the Travel Affaire travel agency across the parking lot from the bank when they heard what sounded like gunfire.

"I was teasing Louise," Haase said. "I was asking her, 'What does an AK-47 sound like?' "

Then she saw what appeared to be a drunk trying to find his balance.

"He looked like he'd been drinking, weaving back and forth," Haase said. "That's what made me watch him. He came out into the parking lot and fell. Then he stood back up and fell down again behind a white car."

Haase called out to Fliss, who stood up from her computer terminal and peered out the window as the gunman stood up.

"He looked exactly like his picture," Fliss said. "It was definitely that guy. He still had his gun. He was holding it, not like he was going to shoot somebody, but like he was disoriented. He looked straight at us."

Fliss stepped to the door and locked it as Haase called 911.

"My heart started pounding," Haase said. "I had palpitations as I tried to call 911 and make them understand what I was saying."

Fliss added: "He was looking at us. I got eye contact. I thought he was going to try to come in here."

They talked about running out the back of the shop.

"Then he fell down," Haase said.

Drew Lovett, the security guard's partner in a gold and diamond mining business, heard about the shooting from a friend and went to the bank shortly afterward. As he stood outside the bank trying to fathom what had happened, Lovett recalled a recent conversation he had had with his friend of seven years, who was hired by the bank soon after the last robbery.

Lovett had asked McClellan about the previous robberies and said the former police officer was "rather lighthearted about it."

"He said it was not likely going to happen that the same robber would return," Lovett said.

McClellan's father, a retired police sergeant, described his son as an excellent marksman.

"We both had been in police work. This was our jobs," said Lynn McClellan, 78. "I never dreamed that someone could beat him in shooting. He was a superior shot. He got the award for being the best shot in his academy class."

FBI spokesman Gary Morley said the gunman also is wanted in connection with two other Orange County robberies, but he declined to discuss the details of those cases. Morley said the persistence of the robber was unusual.

"They do hit the same location twice and maybe three times," Morley said. "But I can't recall any cases in which a bank was hit four times."

Also contributing to this report were Times staff writers H.G. Reza and Lisa Richardson.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|