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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Ex-Officer Suspected of Robbery

November 14, 2000|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OXNARD — He arrived at a downtown bank Monday morning in a chauffeured limousine and wearing a white cowboy hat, all-black outfit and a disguise, authorities said, but Edward Ludaescher left under arrest.

A retired Oxnard police officer, Ludaescher, 40, was booked on suspicion of attempted robbery and held in lieu of $20,000 bail at Ventura County Jail.

Deputies from the Ventura County sheriff's bomb squad were called in to detonate what turned out to be a bag of rocks that police said Ludaescher carried into American Commercial Bank at 155 South A St.

The bomb threat closed A Street between 3rd and 2nd streets Monday morning. Confused and frustrated bank employees, and customers and workers at several nearby businesses, were evacuated for 90 minutes while bomb experts checked out the bag.

The bank, which closed for the rest of the day, will reopen today, officials said.

A 15-year-member of the department, Ludaescher retired about two years ago for medical reasons, authorities said.

"It's disheartening and kind of shocking," said Oxnard Police Sgt. Bernie Schmalhofer, the case's lead investigator. "This is the first time we have a bank robber who ends up being a former police officer."

Arriving at the bank about 9:45 a.m., Ludaescher told employees he was from Texas and had flown into Oxnard Airport, authorities said. "He was trying to impress somebody with the fact that he was an out-of-towner," Schmalhofer said.

Oxnard Police Cmdr. Joe Munoz said bank employees almost immediately became suspicious of Ludaescher when he entered carrying a duffel bag. An employee noticed a bulge in his jacket and called police. Ludaescher disappeared into a bathroom--where a box containing rocks was later found--and then quickly left the bank with the bag and was met by police outside, Munoz said.

Members of the bomb squad detonated the bag on the sidewalk of the bank but found no explosives, Munoz said.

Agents from the FBI's Ventura office were at the scene until it was determined there was no bomb. FBI officials said Oxnard police will handle the investigation.

Schmalhofer declined to say what Ludaescher said that led authorities to believe he had a bomb. The disguise and "the totality of events" caused authorities to conclude a robbery was taking place, he said.

Bank President Jerry Lukiewski said he ordered everyone home to allow detectives more room to work.

"The last thing we want is an incident that will endanger our employees and our customers," Lukiewski said. "We wanted to make sure nobody was a hero and let the police do their job. Money can be replaced, but people and our reputation can't."

Among those evacuated were employees of Mayor Manuel Lopez's optometry practice, which is in a small office complex next store to the bank.

"It was shocking, to say the least," said Monique Valdivia, who works in the office. "They came by and said it was a bomb next door. I locked up and left."

Times staff photographer Steve Osman contributed to this report.

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