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Standoff Ends Bank Robbery

Crime: A man, surrounded by 100 law officers for hours, gives up after seven of his hostages escape.

January 30, 2002|RICHARD WINTON and LIZ R. KAY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

His hostages gone and the Alhambra bank where he was holed up surrounded by more than 100 police, sheriff's deputies and FBI agents, a lone robbery suspect ended a seven-hour standoff Tuesday by surrendering.

Police said Danny Kai Chao, 27, had walked into the Cathay Bank at Atlantic Boulevard and Alhambra Road about 9:30 a.m., claimed he had a gun and demanded $50,000.

But a teller tripped a silent alarm and officers surrounded the place. Detectives said the suspect took nine hostages, all bank employees.

But he released two, and six others escaped through a back room window while he was talking to police negotiators by telephone. The ninth hostage ran out the front door.

"He was on the phone, and he looked around and realized there were no hostages," said Sgt. David Nater, a spokesman for the Alhambra Police Department. "He didn't come well prepared, and he's not very well versed in bank robbery methods of business."

Officers said that after entering the bank, Chao, of Los Angeles, walked up to a teller and demanded the money. Although he claimed to have a gun, no one ever saw it.

Nater said the teller told the suspect there wasn't enough cash on hand, at the same time activating the silent alarm.

Officers called the bank, confirmed the robbery attempt and quickly surrounded the building. The Alhambra police were soon joined by flak-vested sheriff's deputies, FBI agents and police from San Marino, South Pasadena and Covina. Squad cars choked nearby streets and a helicopter hovered overhead.

The robber then took the nine employees hostage, police said. Nater said there apparently were no customers in the bank, or if there were, they escaped during the robbery.

Police reached the suspect by phone, and a deal was struck: At 12:30 p.m., he released two women, and police pulled back about half a block. Using cell phones, several hostages contacted employees at other bank branches, reporting what was going on and saying everyone inside was fine. The workers stayed calm, said Irwin Wong, a Cathay Bank vice president.

"One of the employees said he fell asleep," Wong said.

The telephone negotiations continued into the afternoon, with the suspect using the remaining hostages as a bargaining chip.

But while he was preoccupied, trying to arrange some sort of trade, sheriff's deputies held up signs telling the hostages to flee through a window the officers had opened in a back room. Six of them did just that, and the ninth hostage simply dashed out the front door.

About 4:45 p.m., the suspect walked outside and surrendered to a Sheriff's Department SWAT team. Detectives said Chao took $6,000 from tellers and the bank vault, but he left it behind when he walked out of the bank.

Police said Chao was carrying a pellet gun that remembled a pistol. They said he never drew the weapon in the bank.

Chao was booked on suspicion of kidnapping for ransom and robbery.

*

Times staff writer Eric Malnic contributed to this report.

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