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Bank Robber Bled to Death, Autopsy Finds

Shootout: Man was given no medical care and died of thigh wound in North Hollywood, report says. Whether accomplice was killed by police or self-inflicted gunshot is unclear.

April 11, 1997|BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Emil Matasareanu, the bank robber shot by police in a wild gun battle in North Hollywood and given no medical care, was hit 29 times and bled to death from two bullet wounds to his thigh, the Los Angeles County coroner's office revealed Thursday.

His partner, Larry Eugene Phillips Jr., shot himself in the head, but it could not be determined whether that bullet killed him or whether another potentially fatal shot fired by police about the same time caused his death, according to the autopsy reports released Thursday.

The release of those reports revived questions over whether Matasareanu could have survived the gunshots to his left leg, which ended the gunfight in which the heavily armed and armored robbers fired hundreds of shots as police closed in on them.

Police have said they did not provide immediate medical care to Matasareanu--who lay in the street untreated for more than an hour before being declared dead--for two reasons: There could have been another armed robber in the area and the bomb squad needed to examine the robber for possible grenades or booby traps.

But Dr. Marshall Morgan, chief of emergency medicine at UCLA Medical Center, who reviewed Matasareanu's autopsy report shortly after its release, said the robber could have survived the gunshot wounds even with simple first aid, much less professional medical attention.

"There's no question in my mind that had he received timely care--from a medical standpoint--he would have survived," Morgan said. "I see no reason why a guy would die of these wounds. . . . I think even timely first aid, as opposed to trauma care, could have saved his life."

An internal LAPD review of the shooting revealed that 32 officers fired at the robbers, including SWAT officers, patrol and motorcycle officers and detectives.

Matasareanu was hit 29 times, including 27 shots that broke his skin, one bullet graze and a chest bruise from one of a number of bullets that impacted his armor, the coroner's report said.

Bullets struck him in the arm, shoulder, eye cavity, left upper thigh, buttocks and chest. But it was two thigh wounds that caused the heaviest bleeding, leaving his aorta with minimal blood and other central veins and arteries bloodless and collapsed, the report states.

"It did not contact the femoral artery, which is the main blood supply to the leg," said Scott Carrier, spokesman for the coroner. "But because of extensive damage . . . he bled to death."

Morgan agreed, saying there appeared to be no life-threatening wounds except for the two in his thigh.

Phillips was hit 11 times, including the shot he fired with a handgun. "We can't say if it was a homicide or a suicide," Carrier said, adding that investigators were unable to determine the precise sequence of the shots.

The botched Feb. 28 bank robbery, captured on live television, left 11 officers and six civilians wounded or injured. Most of the injured officers are back on duty.

The dramatic events began unfolding about 9:15 a.m. when the robbers, wearing body armor, were confronted by police outside the Laurel Canyon Boulevard bank branch. The robbers engaged police, many of whom had no bulletproof vests, in a running gunfight for about half an hour before officers gained the upper hand.

Phillips, on foot, was the first to die, firing a pistol under his chin and nearly simultaneously being shot by pursuing officers.

Matasareanu, who was driving down Archwood Street and attempting to commandeer a passing pickup truck, was shot by SWAT officers about 9:55 a.m. The coroner's autopsy report gives his time of death as 11:10 a.m.--the time Fire Department paramedics pronounced him dead, as opposed to a time determined by scientific tests.

Typically, a liver temperature is taken to determine a more exact time of death, but because of the body armor worn by Matasareanu, 30, that test was not conducted, the coroner's office said.

"We are not there to unclothe people in public view," said Carrier, adding that the coroner's investigator at the scene made that decision in part because the robber's death was witnessed by a number of people.

Dr. Richard Siegler, a pathologist at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, said it did not strike him as unusual that a liver temperature was not taken.

"In this case, it was clear and notorious what happened," he said.

Eyewitnesses have said that Matasareanu was conscious and talking to officers after being shot.

An ambulance came to the area to care for the driver of the pickup truck but left quickly and without aiding Matasareanu.

Cmdr. Tim McBride said there were "legitimate concerns" about the situation--including the discovery of two gasoline bombs in Matasareanu's car.

Times staff writer Miles Corwin contributed to this story.

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