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Robbery Suspect Killed in Police Shootout

Crime: Gunfire erupts on a residential street in Stanton after officers chase suspects in a series of Little Saigon holdups. Three men are in custody.

September 12, 2002|VIVIAN LETRAN and JESSICA GARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A man responsible for a spate of violent robberies in Orange County's Little Saigon area died in a shootout with police on a residential street in Stanton after a car chase Wednesday afternoon, officials said.

The shooting erupted moments after the pursuit skidded to a halt on the front lawn of a house on Sonnet Street. Two suspects ran inside the home and then came back out, one opening fire on police officers, authorities said. A third man stayed in the car and was apprehended.

A Westminster police officer, who narrowly escaped a bullet, shot and killed the armed suspect, officials said. Three others, including the man in the car, the man who ran out of the house and a man who was inside the house, were taken into custody. Officials declined to identify the men.

"It's lucky nobody innocent was killed," said Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino.

The department is investigating the shooting, but Amormino said initial evidence suggests that the suspect gave the officer, who was not identified, little choice but to fire in self-defense.

Officers said they believe that the dead man was responsible for a series of robberies of beauty salons, restaurants and other Little Saigon businesses during the last three weeks.

In the most recent robbery, on Tuesday at the Asian American Senior Center in Westminster, a 57-year-old man was pistol-whipped and an 80-year-old woman was threatened with death for not removing a ring fast enough, authorities and witnesses said.

Police said the chase began when officers spotted a white Mercedes they believed was the robbers' car.

Olivia Lopez, 32, who lives about 50 feet from where the shooting occurred, said she saw the men arrive in a car and run into the house.

"The cops were chasing them," she said. "They stopped the car and ran into the house and then one tried to escape into the alley. The cops followed him and shot him.

"I was very scared," she said. Stephanie Chagollan, who lives across the street, said she heard several shots.

Authorities said Wednesday that they believe at least one suspect lived at the home in Stanton. David Salgado, 12, was arriving home from school when the shooting happened. He ran inside as fast as he could.

"I felt very scared because this happened on the same day as the twin towers," he said. "I didn't know something would happen here in my neighborhood--it's usually very quiet."

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Times staff writers Hector Becerra and David Haldane contributed to this report.

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