Norco ’80, finale: Careers ruined, police tactics changed by bank robbery and gun battle

Norco ’80
The true story of the most spectacular bank robbery in American history

On July 13, 1980, just over two months after the Norco bank robbery, the Riverside Press-Enterprise began a four-part exposé titled “Staying Alive.” Ostensibly an exploration of lessons learned from the Norco bank robbery, the opening lines of the first article clearly announced what it was really about:

Riverside sheriff’s deputies are angry. And they’re scared. A fellow officer, James B. Evans, was shot to death during a robbery and chase that led into the San Gabriel Mountains. The deputies don’t think their department is doing enough to prevent it from happening again.

Grumbling among the RSO deputies had begun immediately after Norco, many feeling they had inadequate training, weapons and communications. Most of the accusations were aimed directly at Sheriff Ben Clark, in his 17th year leading the department.

Clark contested the accusations head-on. “Riverside’s deputies are as well-trained and equipped as any police officers in the state.” On the subject of guns, Clark conceded, “The bad guys simply had the better weapons.” However, he dismissed the idea that high-powered rifles would have done his men any good.


Parker Esquivel, 10, of Riverside gets a lesson in sighting an M60 machine gun at the Neighborhood Leaders to National Heroes event at Riverside Municipal Airport. (Photo by Melissa Eiselein, THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE/SCNG)

Other police agencies involved thought differently. In the two months following the Norco bank robbery, the Riverside PD had ordered a dozen high-powered rifles. The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office acquired three dozen automatic weapons and an M60 belt-fed machine gun capable of firing 750 rounds of .308 ammunition per minute to mount on one of its choppers.

Shortly after publication of the article, Sheriff Clark changed course with a surprising announcement. “It is our intention to buy 40 Mini-14 rifles.”

After 100 years of policing the Wild West with a six-shooter and a Winchester shotgun, Inland Empire law enforcement agencies were now on their way to becoming some of the most heavily armed in the nation. The two sheriff’s departments had gone from a pair of high-powered rifles between them to more than 75 and counting. Helicopters, unarmed before Norco, now circled overhead with machine guns at the ready.

After the flurry of weapons acquisitions was announced, deputies Andy Delgado and Dave Madden were watching television when the evening news showed video of German police clad in body armor holding Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns across their chests. “That’s the way it’s going,” Andy said. “That’s how we’ll all be armed soon.”

•••

Andy Delgado never fully forgave Glyn Bolasky and Chuck Hille for leaving him alone under fire in front of the bank that day. “I had a three-minute gun battle with the robbers. I wasn’t happy being left there to die,” he told the Press-Enterprise.


Riverside deputy Glyn Bolasky was shot by the robbers as he responded to the Security Pacific bank in Norco. (Photo by Riverside Press-Enterprise)

Plagued by bad dreams, dark thoughts and anxiety along with a growing bitterness toward the department, Glyn Bolasky quit the RSO within the year for a job at the Riverside PD. But soon into his six-month field-training program his training officer spotted problems. Bolasky was jittery, his behavior erratic. “I like the guy,” the training officer concluded, “but he just can’t get over Norco.”

On Jan. 12, 1981, the Riverside Police Department parted ways with Bolasky, labeling him a “vicarious liability.” When a reporter asked RPD Chief Victor Jones why his department had not done more to help Bolasky, “Jones said he doesn’t have the budget for psychologists or psychiatrists, so he retires officers when they have mental fatigue.” The comment was a stark illustration of law enforcement’s approach at the time to the problem of posttraumatic stress disorder among officers.


Riverside deputy Andy Delgado arrived at the scene of the robbery and immediately ended up in a gun battle with the bad guys. (Photo courtesy of Andy Monti)

Norco marked the start of a two-year slide for Andy Delgado. Well respected but always fiery, Delgado increasingly found himself in flare-ups, confrontations and shouting matches with supervisors and fellow officers. By the first anniversary of Norco, he was carrying two handguns while out in the field – one in a shoulder holster, one in his boot. He did not try to disguise the reason: “If I can’t count on people in this department to back me up, then I’ll do it myself.”  In February of 1982, Det. Andy Delgado was medically discharged by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for posttraumatic stress disorder.

It had taken 20 months, but now two of the three deputies who had shot it out with the escaping bank robbers at the intersection of Fourth and Hamner were out of the only career they had ever wanted. Within a few more years, the third, Chuck Hille would follow with a related medical discharge.

Twenty years after the Norco bank robbery, the Riverside Sheriff’s Department finally officially honored the deputies involved. In a 2000 commemoration ceremony, Glyn Bolasky, Chuck Hille, Andy Delgado and Rolf Parkes received the Medal of Courage for “acts of heroism performed at great risk to life and limb.” James Evans was posthumously awarded the RSO’s highest honor, the Medal of Valor.

•••

At 11 a.m. on Dec. 2, 2015, two Islamic extremists armed with AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, thousands of rounds of .223 ammunition and homemade pipe bombs burst into the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino and opened fire on an employee meeting inside. Within minutes, 14 were dead and 22 seriously injured. The suspects fled the scene, immediately sparking the largest manhunt in the Inland Empire since the search for the Norco bank robbers 35 years before.

But this time, Inland Empire law enforcement agencies came equipped with more than just a single beat-up M16. Officers swarmed the region in BearCat armored personnel carriers and armed with semiautomatic weapons while police choppers equipped as “gun platforms” circled overhead. Trapped in a suburban neighborhood four hours later, the two suspects were killed in just over five minutes with a hail of 440 rounds of police gunfire.

In the immediate aftermath, local police officials cited the lesson learned from Norco as the genesis of the Inland Empire law enforcement’s ability to rapidly deploy with such overwhelming force. In a 2017 article for Vice entitled “How a 1980 Bank Robbery Sparked the Militarization of America’s Police,” a quote from Rolf Parkes pinpointed the evolution to a specific moment and the actions of a single deputy: D. J. McCarty. “When the suspects heard that rifle, they realized their firepower was now being matched. There would have been a lot more dead cops on that road if not for that weapon.”

D. J. McCarty was awarded the Medal of Valor by the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department for his actions on Baldy Notch Road.

•••

A man walks into the room with a sly, almost mischievous smile on his face. He is in his mid-60s with a potbelly, the long beard and hair much as it was 35 years earlier, only now snow white. The eyes are the same, too, squinty with a bit of a sparkle. If he auditioned for Santa Claus at the local mall, he’d probably get the job. But he can’t. This is the Inmate Visiting Center of Unit A at the California State Prison in Lancaster, high on the desert plain east of Los Angeles. Russell Harven has been here a long time, and he is never getting out.


Robber Chris Harven was shot and wounded by Riverside deputy Jim Evans just before Evans was killed by gunfire from the bad guys he’d been chasing. Harven is seen here after his capture on Mount Baldy. (Photo courtesy of San Bernardino Sun)

“My brother is giving me hell for this.” Russ is talking about his older brother, Chris, currently held up north in a Vacaville prison. The two had been cellmates for most of the last 15 years, and he expects to be transferred up to Vacaville soon where they will be again. Russ sees it as a blessing and a curse. On one hand, at least it’s someone he knows. On the other hand, it’s Chris. The dynamic has not changed all that much in 35 years.

The visitor center is full of men in denim shirts and pants, almost all black or Hispanic. If they think about an old white inmate like Russell Harven at all, it is probably dismissively. But there is not one of them in the room who has a conviction record approaching anything like his: 45 major felonies including kidnapping, explosives, armed robbery, 24 counts of attempted murder and two first-degree murder convictions in the deaths of Jim Evans and Billy Delgado.

Harven responds to the visitor’s questions as best he can, even if the answers are simple and uncomplicated. “I’ve spent most of my life trying not to think about what happened that day.” In his letters and as he speaks, the superior intelligence range in which he tested just after Norco is obvious. He refers to himself as having been “indolent” and “fatalistic” in the years leading up to Norco. He says it never occurred to him that it would end up in a gunfight. If it had, he never would have done it. When asked if he thinks he fired the shot that killed Jim Evans, he looks away. “God, I hope not.”

Like his brother, Russell is still angry about the trial. Tried along with Chris and George, all three defense teams accused the prosecution and police of misconduct including perjury and destroying evidence. They stand by their assertion during the trial that it was friendly fire from D.J. McCarty that killed Evans, so they should have gotten 25 years to life under the Felony Murder Rule instead of life without parole. “I am somewhat bitter about getting that sentence,” he says. “I used to be a happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care type. Now I am a bitter old man waiting for my toe tag.”

After two hours, the visitor runs out of questions, so they spend the last hour talking about ’70s rock music and L.A. radio stations they used to listen to, the smoggy days, sneaking into Disneyland – all the stuff teenagers growing up in Orange County did back then. For a while, they are just two guys sitting around talking about the old neighborhood. They try to figure out if they might have gone to some of the same concerts. “What about the AC/DC Back in Black tour at the Orange Pavilion in San Bernardino?” the visitor asks. Harven’s mood changes. Of course he wasn’t there. It was September 1980. By then, Russell Harven had already thrown his life away.

The guard calls out visitor hours are over and Harven stands. Before leaving, the visitor cannot help but ask what is both the best and stupidest question one can ask someone who has done something unimaginable: “Why did you do it?”

“Simple,” Harven says without hesitation. “Because I thought we’d get away with it.”

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Norco ’80, part 11: Gunmen race through mountains, use terrain to fire on officers

Norco ’80
The true story of the most spectacular bank robbery in American history

Parts

Rising abruptly from the coastal flatlands, the San Gabriel Mountains, through which Lytle Creek has carved itself, quickly soar to elevations of over 10,000 feet at the summit of Mount Baldy. As dangerous as it is beautiful, Lytle Creek Canyon can be extremely uninviting terrain. Earthquakes, rockslides, wildfires and flash floods are common. The steep hillsides are covered with California chaparral made up of scrub oak, manzanita, buckbrush, sumac and sage. At higher elevations, the ecosystem changes to scattered pine groves of Douglas fir, ponderosa and sugar pine.

The place has always attracted loners, outsiders and outlaws. Early settlers included gold miners, trappers, moonshiners and horse thieves who hid their stolen animals up the canyon. The explosion of illegal street drugs brought traffickers into the canyon alongside the population of 600 or so permanent residents. San Bernardino Sheriff’s units and the county coroner’s van became frequent visitors.

•••

San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies D. J. McCarty and Jim McPheron both had their taste of death in the canyon. So they were not happy when they heard the pursuit of the Norco bank robbers was headed into Lytle Creek.

McCarty had been coming off the two-shift, changing out of his uniform at the Fontana substation when he heard there was some serious stuff going down just over the county line in Riverside. A local boy with a sweeping Glen Campbell hairstyle and irreverent personality, the 26-year-old McCarty had a little over one year on the force.

Deputy James McPheron was just starting his 4 p.m. shift. Tall and soft-spoken, “Mac” was an old-school cop who always referred to himself as a “peace officer.” While tough, McPheron’s nature tended toward the quiet and gentle as compared to the brash and colorful McCarty.

McPheron was on his way to intercept the pursuit when he heard the report that 40-King-2 had been grounded by gunfire. He wheeled the Ford Fairlane patrol unit into a sweeping U-turn across Foothill Boulevard. “I’m headed back to Fontana station,” he radioed. “Somebody get the AR.”

The only semiautomatic rifle in the entire department arsenal was a military Colt M16 rifle seized by deputies from a drug dealer during a high-speed chase. The Army didn’t want it back, so the .223-caliber rifle with full and semi-automatic capabilities hung around the station.

When he heard McPheron’s request for the AR, D.J. McCarty raced to the vehicle yard to retrieve the weapon from the trunk of a sergeant’s unit along with four 20-round magazines. While the department provided no training on the M16, there were plenty of military vets on the force who knew how to fire one. McCarty was not one of them.

McPheron came racing into the vehicle lot and D.J. jumped in the passenger seat. “Let dispatch know we have the AR,” he said, tires screaming as they tore out of the lot. “They need to tell everyone in front of us to get out of our way.”

•••

“We are a quarter-mile from the ranger station on Sierra Road in the National Forest and they are firing like crazy.”

With Deputy Jim Evans’ cool West Texas country drawl and calm delivery, there was no question who was now the lead RSO unit in the pursuit. It was only the content of Evans’ reports that betrayed just how perilous his situation had become since plunging into the mouth of Lytle Creek Canyon. “I think my unit just got hit with three rounds,” he reported. “Fall back, they are really firing now.”


Riverside deputy Jim Evans. (Photo courtesy of Riverside Sheriff’s Office)

Evans might have been the lead RSO unit, but he was only the No. 3 car in the overall pursuit. Coming off Interstate 15, two CHP units had grabbed the one and two spots with Steve Batchelor and Peter Vander Kamp riding together in the lead vehicle and patrolman Joe Haughey just behind. Neither had any ability to communicate with Evans.

Attempts by the CHP units to keep their distance in the canyon were countered by Chris Harven’s ambush tactics. On straightaways, Harven accelerated the truck up to speeds of 50 miles per hour only to lay back on blind curves so Russ, Manny and George could open up at close range when pursuing units appeared around the bend.

It was a deadly game of cat and mouse that continued up the canyon and through the tiny communities of Scotland and Lytle Creek Village. Beyond that lay only campgrounds and raw wilderness virtually unchanged since the days of the Wild West. At 3,000 feet, what had been a clear, warm spring day in Norco now had a bite of cold and a cloud cover moving in. High above them, patches of snow still held out on the hillsides of Baldy.

As he sped up the canyon, Jim Evans could hear an SBSO helicopter somewhere in the skies above him but could not receive their transmissions. The only system designed for interagency communication was The California Law Enforcement Mutual Aid Radio System, or CLEMARS.  Implementation was complicated and the RSO capability was limited to several handheld CLEMARS radios. But at that moment, one of them happened to be in the hands of an RSO sergeant in the pursuit named Don Bender. “Edward-320. We got communications with the chopper,” Bender radioed.

“OK. Is the chopper on Sierra? Can you see him?” Evans responded

“Affirmative, he’s almost to the end of the paved road.”

It was far from a perfect solution, with Bender relaying information between Evans and spotter John Plasencia on 40-King-1. The result was a 10- to 15-second communication lag. But at least Evans now had a pair of eyes to tell him the one thing he wanted to know most: Was he about to get ambushed?

“320, can you tell us how far behind we are?” Evans asked. “We got blind curves. We want to know how far back we are.”

“Just a minute, we’ll check with the chopper,” Bender said. “OK, now he’s moving out again,” Bender relayed almost 20 seconds later. “Continuing northbound on the paved road.”

Seventeen miles up the canyon, the pursuit abruptly slowed as Lytle Creek Road became a narrow, rain-rutted dirt road, suitable only for four-wheel-drive vehicles. Dirt kicked up by lead vehicles obscured visibility. The farther up they went, the worse it got.

Approaching a tight horseshoe bend carved into the hillside, Chris Harven spotted an opportunity to take out a lead vehicle and block the pursuit line.

Evans spotted it, too. “Looks like they’re gonna lay back on the curve, next one coming up on us,” he radioed to Bender. “Have that chopper keep watching. Tell him if they stop, that’s what we want to know.”

Coming out of the bend in the horseshoe, Harven abruptly brought the truck to a halt. Manny and Russ stood up and fired across the ravine at Evans and the two lead CHP units on the other side. A line of bullets kicked up dirt on the hillside just above the hood of Batchelor and Vander Kamp’s patrol car before Chris took off again.

After another 5 miles, Lytle Creek Road passed the mouth of Coldwater Canyon, turned west to cross the wide creek bed and up a grade to a campground known as Stockton Flats. The elevation rose to 6,000 feet.

At another blind curve, Russ and Manny tossed two highly explosive acetylene gas cylinders out of the back of the truck along with a five-gallon can of diesel fuel. As the lead CHP units weaved their units past the obstacles, George Smith attempted to detonate the tanks with rounds from his .308. The tanks failed to explode.

•••

Jim McPheron and D. J. McCarty knew they must be getting close to the front of the pursuit line. Passing a CHP unit, McPheron came up on the rear bumper of SBSO deputy Mike Lenihan, with a civilian reserve deputy named Margaret Martin on board. Lenihan pulled over to let McPheron and McCarty fly past.

That left only Evans and the CHP unit with Batchelor and Vander Kamp between McPheron and the yellow truck. Tipped off that the S.O. unit with the automatic was coming up behind them, Batchelor angled his CHP car toward the side of the road. For a moment, Evans seemed to follow, but then swung back out in front of McPheron.

“OK, I got the lead unit now,” Evans radioed.

Moments later, the road changed dramatically. In all the dust, there was no way Jim Evans, D. J. McCarty, or James McPheron could have seen the sign the Forest Service had posted there: Dangerous road. No unauthorized vehicles beyond this point.

•••

Etched along the western face of the tallest mountain in the San Gabriel range, Baldy Notch Road rises from a 6,012-foot elevation at Stockton Flats to a summit of almost 8,000 feet. Any trip up Baldy Notch Road was a harrowing journey of steep inclines, declines and switchbacks on a single-track dirt road clinging to the mountainside with drops of up to 500 feet on one side and unstable upslopes on the other. Dangerous in the best of conditions, a run up Baldy Notch under heavy gunfire was unthinkable, the stuff of nightmares.

A few hundred yards into the climb, the road horseshoed back on itself. The three gunmen opened up on the units still moving through Stockton Flats. In the narrow canyon, the gunshots echoed sharply back and forth off rock-face cliffs on three sides. Chris Harven hit the accelerator and the truck disappeared around a tight curve.

“I got a bad curve coming up here, what are they doing?” Evans asked.

“He’s still movin’,” Bender relayed, but the delay in getting the information to Evans had been almost 15 seconds.

Evans continued up the grade a hundred yards behind the truck and watched as it disappeared around a bend to the right leading into a straight, sharp ascent. “Are they movin?” he asked Bender. There was no reply. Fifteen seconds later, Evans came around the bend and had his answer.

“OK, we’re hit!” Evans screamed into the mic so sharply it distorted the transmission, making it almost unintelligible. But everyone who heard it knew that something very bad had just happened.

“Jim, talk.”

“Evans, you there?”

“Edward-20, unit with Evans?”

“Evans, are they in the truck?”

“Evans, who is in the truck?”

There was no answer. There was no one left in the truck.

•••

Coming Saturday: Part 12 – Tragedy strikes when the robbers abandon their truck but keep firing.

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Norco ’80, part 9: Violent pursuit through suburbia racks up casualties

Norco ’80
The true story of the most spectacular bank robbery in American history

Parts

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

It was a busy time of day for the working-class neighborhood of Mira Loma, especially on a Friday. Kids were walking or in school buses working their way home through the 4-square-mile grid of suburbia. Adults had ended their workweek, many already watering lawns or outside chatting with neighbors. As the wail of sirens, thumping of chopper blades and sound of gunfire came closer, the residents of Mira Loma knew something very bad was headed their way.

Beyond the intersection of Etiwanda and Limonite, California Highway Patrolman Doug Earnest saw the yellow truck take a hard right off Etiwanda onto 54th Street, the road marking the southern border of Mira Loma. When he got to 54th Street, Earnest slowed to a crawl and edged the nose of his Dodge patrol unit into the intersection. Immediately two rounds tore into the metal hood of his vehicle. Through a break in the shrubbery, he saw the truck at a dead stop in the roadway, three men aiming rifles at him. Doug Earnest had just been ambushed.

Above Earnest’s patrol unit, the newest entry into the pursuit arrived on scene. Riverside Police helicopter Baker-1 with spotter Paul Benoit onboard swooped in 500 feet above the yellow truck, which took a left onto Troth Street, plunging into the heart of Mira Loma.

Chris zigzagged his way through the neighborhood, turning every block to confound any attempt by police to intercept them.

Rolf Parkes was limping his shot-up patrol unit along Marlatt when the truck suddenly appeared, coming off Jurupa. Making a left turn directly in front of him, all three gunmen opened up, hitting his vehicle again. Fred Chisholm appeared from Jurupa Road and skidded to a stop. “You got a flat tire, Rolf,” he radioed. “Pull over, get your shotgun, and come on.” Rolf grabbed the gun and jumped into Chisholm’s passenger seat, leaving the Dodge Monaco dead on the side of the road.

Doug Earnest did not see the truck make a sudden right turn onto 50th Street and drove straight through the intersection. A young boy ran out onto Marlatt, pointing wildly down 50th. Earnest slammed on the brakes, threw his patrol car into reverse, tires screeching, and headed east on 50th over a low rise in the road. When he crested the hill midblock, the yellow truck was stopped just short of the corner of Dodd and 50th. Earnest did not know it, but Chris Harven and George Smith were looking at their own house, assessing their chances of bailing out of the truck and into their barbed wire compound and the safety of the pit.

Chris knew it was impossible, with Baker-1 overhead and cops traversing the neighborhood. He hit the gas and turned left up Dodd, which dead-ended into Bellegrave Avenue, a long, straight, two-lane stretch of road marking the northern boundary of Mira Loma.

Doug Earnest radioed the direction of the truck over the CHP frequency to patrolman Bill Crowe, the other CHP officer in the vicinity. Doug Earnest had been Crowe’s training partner a half-dozen years before and looked after Crowe as he would a little brother.

Following Earnest’s reports, Crowe headed eastbound on Bellegrave toward Dodd traveling at a high rate of speed. Riverside deputy Rudy Romo was several car lengths behind Crowe, with the youngest RSO deputy on the force, A.J. Reynard, just behind him. Above in Baker-1, Paul Benoit could see what was unfolding beneath him. The yellow truck coming up Dodd and the three police units eastbound on Bellegrave were going to reach the intersection at the same time. “Better advise those units on Bellegrave they are approaching that vehicle at this time,” he radioed urgently.

Crowe was 50 feet short of the intersection when he caught sight of the yellow truck speeding up Dodd with Russell Harven standing in the bed firing. The first volley strafed the entire right side of Crowe’s patrol car, rounds going through the front fender and both side doors, shattering the rear passenger side window, and blowing out two tires. Crowe stood on the brake, but his unit continued to skid toward the yellow truck now making the right off Dodd onto Bellegrave directly in front of him. By the time his vehicle came to a stop, he was so close Russell Harven had to point the “Shorty” AR at a downward angle in order to shoot Bill Crowe through the windshield of his patrol car.

The first bullet from Harven went through the right side and out the rear window, shattering it. The second hit dead center, tore the rearview mirror in half and fragmented, sending shards of copper into Crowe’s arm and leg, lodging others under his scalp and in his sternum, and piercing the soft pinna tissue of his ear. Crowe was ducking for cover when the last bullet came through the driver’s side of the windshield, entered his body through his left bicep and exited his back just above the shoulder blade. The truck sped away, leaving Bill Crowe stunned and bleeding in the front seat of his CHP unit.

Rudy Romo had jammed on the brakes in a hail of gunfire at the same time Crowe did. He ducked below the line of his dashboard the instant before a bullet came through the windshield and blew the headrest clean off the driver’s seat above him. Like Parkes and Brown before him, Rudy Romo had come within inches of taking a direct headshot from an assault rifle.

As Doug Earnest approached the intersection at Bellegrave, he saw Crowe’s CHP unit go into a full skid just behind the yellow truck. Then Crowe’s unit seemed to disintegrate before Earnest’s eyes, exploding from the inside out, glass and metal flying in all directions. When Earnest reached Crowes patrol unit, Crowe was leaning to the passenger side of the vehicle, blood coming down his face, in his hair, on his uniform and still-holstered gun. Earnest called his name. Crowe did not respond. He’s dead, Earnest thought, and it’s my fault. I’m the one who guided him straight into the truck and they killed him. Earnest called out sharply to Crowe again. This time Crowe responded weakly and began to sit up in the seat, still pale and waxy but at least somewhat coherent.

“Roll an ambulance to Bellegrave and Dodd,” Rolf Parkes radioed when he and Chisholm came upon the scene. “Officer shot!”

“Copy. Bellegrave and Dodd. Officer shot,” dispatcher Gary Keeter acknowledged flatly. That was six men down.

•••

A.J. Reynard never saw the yellow truck that day. Approaching Dodd just behind Crowe and Romo, a bullet suddenly came through the bottom right corner of Reynard’s windshield. Thinking the gunfire was coming from the field directly to the right of him, A. J. ducked down across his seat and stomped on the accelerator to get clear of the line of fire. He did not know that the men shooting at him had turned onto Bellegrave directly in front of him. Three rounds smashed through his windshield and then it felt to A.J. as though someone grabbed ahold of his arm and jerked it off the steering wheel. When he looked, blood was rushing out of a large hole on the inside of his left elbow.


Riverside deputy A.J. Reynard was inside this sheriff’s car when the robbers unloaded a hail of bullets at him. (Photo courtesy of Riverside Sheriff’s Office)

Still unaware of the source of the gunfire, Reynard reached back up with his bloody arm, grabbed the steering wheel, and kept going, not realizing he was now just feet away from the business end of a “Shorty” AR.

Five hundred feet overhead in Baker-1, a dumbfounded Paul Benoit radioed an urgent message over the RSO frequency. “Riverside, you better tell that unit to back off.”

With Russ Harven about to unload on Reynard at arm’s length, Chris Harven abruptly turned right onto Bain Street. Reynard kept going.

In all, Reynard traveled over a quarter mile down Bellegrave at full acceleration without looking up once, finally skidding to a stop in front of deputies Kurt Franklin and Bill Eldrich manning a roadblock at Van Buren Boulevard.

Moments later, Kurt Franklin was on the radio. “2-Edward-73. I am transporting Officer Reynard; he’s taken a round in the arm.”

Reynard made seven men down.

When Rolf Parkes and Fred Chisholm reached the area of Bellegrave and Dodd, what they found there shocked them. Passing the ruins of four police and three vehicles within a single block, Rolf Parkes decided on a name for the place. He called it “The Graveyard of Cars.”

•••

When they reached the end of the block on Bain Street, Chris Harven made the right turn onto 50th and accelerated, passing their own house again.  With every cop in the Inland Empire now looking for a bright yellow pickup, he decided they needed to swap out their ride.

Turning right up Etiwanda again, there was a small mom-and-pop convenience store called the Can Do Market. As usual, it was busy on a Friday with at cars parked in the small lot outside or fueling at the two gas pumps in front. A railroad crew of about 15 men stood around a picnic table, finishing off their workweek with a few beers in the shade of a cottonwood.

Chris cut sharply into the market parking area and brought the yellow truck to a stop beside a white van waiting to get gas. Behind the wheel of his 1974 GMC van, a Vietnam veteran named Robert LeMay was about to pull forward to an open pump when Chris Harven appeared at the driver’s window aiming the Long Colt at his head. “You better get the (expletive) out of there,” Harven yelled at him. LeMay looked down the barrel of the gun and then at Harven. Then he drove away.

With their intended target now gone and more than a dozen burly railroad workers staring at them, there was nothing left to do but get back in the yellow truck and get away from the Can Do Market.

“Vehicle at this time is resuming its northbound traffic on Etiwanda,” Baker-1 updated. “Northbound again.”

The moment the yellow truck crossed Bellegrave, every cop in the Inland Empire knew where it was headed. Like every bank robber in Southern California, these guys were headed for the freeway.

For the first time that day, dispatcher Gary Keeter sounded almost defeated as he relayed the information. “Northbound, coming to Highway 60,” he said wearily. The men who had just robbed a bank and shot seven cops and five civilians were not only leaving Mira Loma, they were escaping Riverside County entirely. For the last 21 minutes, Keeter had been dealing with a complete disaster. Now he would have to inform the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office that the disaster was heading straight into their county.

•••

Coming Thursday: Part 10 – The pursuit on the freeway and in the air intensifies as it enters San Bernardino County.

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Norco ’80, part 7: Deputy arrives at gun battle before bank robbers flee

Norco ’80
The true story of the most spectacular bank robbery in American history

Parts

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Deputy Andy Delgado cut his siren and crested the rise between Fifth Street and Fourth Street going 75 miles per hour. Scanning the intersection, he spotted the green van off the road on Fourth Street just short of Hamner. Figures darted out from behind the van and disappeared again. Another stood between the open side cargo door and a chain-link fence unloading duffel bags. Andy heard so much gunfire he assumed it must be automatic weapons fire.

Andy swung his patrol unit into the empty northbound lanes and angled it toward the side of the road, bringing it to a stop at a 45-degree angle at the curb 50 yards short of the intersection. He exited the vehicle with his shotgun and stood behind the V of his open driver’s door.

Now he could see more clearly what the men at the front of the van were doing. Three of them were taking turns stepping out from behind the van to fire down Fourth Street, where Bolasky must be. Andy saw they were all wearing military jackets and black ski masks and firing military-type rifles. Delgado thought he must be facing a band of Middle Eastern terrorists. After all, more than 60 Americans were still being held hostage in Iran, where thousands in the streets chanted “Death to America” every day.

Assessing the situation, Andy had another problem. There were people everywhere now. Vehicles were backing up in both directions on Hamner. Motorists were out of their cars trying to figure out just what was going on. Gawkers streamed from the Carl’s Jr. or wandered across the Stater Bros. parking lot to see what all the commotion was about. Andy estimated close to 50 civilians in the immediate area. But for the moment, Andy’s field of fire was free of noncombatants.

Andy lifted the Wingmaster shotgun over the top of the open door of his patrol car and unloaded three rounds of buckshot. One pellet grazed the back of Chris Harven’s neck. Russell Harven felt a burning sensation as a shot of buck burrowed under his scalp at the hairline and tunneled its way beneath the tissue all the way to the back of his head without penetrating the skull.

Another of the blasts from Andy’s modified-choke Wingmaster at a distance of 50 yards haloed George Smith in buckshot, rattling pellets off the thick exterior of the van. George felt something dig into the meat of the inside of his left leg, up high in the groin area. A second struck the outside of his right thigh, coming to rest deep inside the tissue of his buttocks. George felt the warm wetness of blood spreading down his inner thigh.


George Smith was hit in the leg by a round fired by Riverside deputy Andy Delgado near the bank but was able to continue exchanging fire with multiple officers despite the loss of much of his blood until the chase ended on Mount Baldy where he was captured. (Photo courtesy of San Bernardino Sun)

Chris and Russell Harven were through being sitting ducks. Russ moved to a position on the driver’s side of the van for protection, peeking around to fire shots in the direction of the cop who had just put a shotgun pellet under his scalp. Chris lay prone on the pavement, sighting over the barrel of the gun, reeling a dozen rounds at Andy’s radio car. He rolled to his right, ejected the banana clip, flipped it over and locked a fresh one into the magazine port.

Bullets ripped into Andy’s vehicle, one in the hood on the driver’s side and another in the molding at the roofline. A third hit the pavement, sending fragments through the open door he was using for cover as though it were nothing more than a shower curtain.

Andy had six more shotgun shells in a stock sling strapped to the butt end of the gun. He pushed two loads of buckshot and a rifled slug – a one-ounce monster chunk of lead the size of a Civil War Minié ball – into the magazine port on the belly of the gun.

Over the gunfire, he heard the radio transmissions from Bolasky that he had an artery hit and was bleeding badly. That explained why Bolasky was no longer laying down fire on the suspects. But what about Hille? With Hille coming in from Sierra and Andy down Hamner, they should have their suspects caught in a crossfire right now. Andy listened, but there was no sound of fire coming from the area down Fourth Street where he knew Hille and Bolasky must be. A terrible feeling came over him. He could sense he was alone.

Andy racked the first shell into the chamber, stood and fired off both rounds of buckshot. He threw himself to the ground as rounds struck the pavement and the side mirror on the driver’s door shattered, the frame around it exploding. Fragments erupted from out of the dashboard inside the vehicle just to his right. Andy stood and fired his seventh round, the rifled slug, missing the suspects and punching a hole in the side of the bank building.

He ducked down and pushed his last three shells into the magazine port. A chorus of sirens swelled in the distance. Andy took a deep breath, stood, fired two more rounds at the men beside the van and then went back down. All he had now was one slug and his .38 revolver. He set the shotgun to the side, drew the six-shooter and waited.

•••

George gripped his leg to stop the bleeding, but the blood just oozed between his fingers. “Take a bag,” he yelled to Chris and Russ, tossing the duffel bags into the road. The two fired a few more rounds in the direction of Andy Delgado and then grabbed a bag each. Manny let loose a blast from the riot gun and then threw the third over his shoulder. George pointed toward the lines of cars backed up at the light south on Hamner. “Fan out and get another vehicle.”

The three men spread out and moved toward the lines of cars, the Harvens with assault rifles tucked under their arms, Manny with the riot gun at his hip. The scene at Fourth and Hamner became one of total madness as three masked and heavily armed men descended on the trapped motorists, menacingly swinging high-powered rifles as they approached, sending passengers and onlookers running for their lives.

As the others searched for a new getaway car, George Smith flipped the jungle clip at the bottom of the Heckler .308, locked in a fresh 40-round magazine and limped out to the middle of the intersection.

 


Riverside deputy Andy Delgado arrived at the scene of the robbery and immediately ended up in a gun battle with the bad guys. (Photo courtesy of Andy Monti)

When Andy Delgado peeked over the door of his patrol unit, he could hardly believe what he saw. A tall man in a ski mask and military-green duster, pants tucked into black boots, came out from behind the van and walked, no, strolled out to the very center of the busiest intersection in Norco. The man positioned himself right where a traffic cop might stand and coolly surveyed the area. Standing in the wide open, flat-footed and unafraid, the man did not look at all concerned that it had come down to a firefight. There was no question in Andy’s mind that he was looking at the leader of the gang.

The man turned toward Andy, lifted the assault rifle to his hip and began firing. A round entered through the grill, passed through the radiator, slammed into the engine block and fragmented. Shards of lead and copper cut the hood cable in half and passed though the dashboard and into the interior of the vehicle. Delgado lay on the ground as more rounds cracked the sky above him and struck the road in front of him, spraying the area with a lethal mix of asphalt, lead and copper. This is it, Andy thought. This is where it all ends.

•••

A 24-year-old heavy-machinery mechanic named Mikel Linville was driving a company service vehicle northbound on Hamner when he stopped at the light at Fourth Street. The yellow-orange 1969 Ford F-250 pickup had been modified with steel utility cabinets on the sides. Tall cylinders of compressed gas were secured upright behind the cab, welding equipment and tools scattered about the bed of the truck.

Stopped in the far-left lane, Linville heard the popping of gunfire and spotted three men in ski masks moving through the lanes of stopped traffic, leveling guns at passengers. One was headed directly for him. When Chris Harven lowered the Heckler .223 and aimed it directly at him through the windshield, Linville knew it was time to leave. He threw open the door to the truck and sprinted away.

Harven called for the others and climbed into the driver’s seat of the truck. Russ hurled a duffel bag over the side cabinets and scrambled into the bed after it while Manny jumped in the passenger side of the cab.  Chris swung the yellow truck out of its lane and pulled into the intersection.

From his position, Andy Delgado saw the man in the center of the intersection walk to the rear of the truck and hand his rifle up to the man in the back. He seemed to be in no hurry at all. He stepped up onto the bumper and swung himself over the tailgate and disappeared into the bed. The truck accelerated, angling back into the northbound lanes heading toward Andy’s location.

Andy put his head to the pavement, holding the .38 and peering under the patrol car, looking for any boots that might hit the ground.

He could hear the engine of the big truck as it drew closer. There was a rapid Bam! Bam! Bam! of gunfire as George Smith fired the Heckler over the tailgate of the truck, one .308-caliber bullet gouging a deep, five-inch trench in the metal roof of Andy’s unit. The truck accelerated away, up the low grade between Fourth and Fifth streets. Andy grabbed his shotgun off the pavement and fired off his last round at the truck as it crested the hill and disappeared.

“Three suspects fled, a yellow pickup north on Hamner,” Andy radioed breathlessly.

•••

The intersection at Hamner and Fourth was eerily quiet except for the crackling bursts of radio traffic coming from the shot-up police cruisers, the wail of distant sirens. Through the glass doors of the Security Pacific Bank, 18-year-old James Kirkland watched the green van rocking back and forth against the chain-link fence. And then something very peculiar happened. A head emerged out the back window of the van. Moments later, a man with his arms and legs bound in packing tape, squirmed his way out of the window and flopped onto the pavement below. “I’m a hostage! Help me!” Gary Hakala called out.

Inside the van, Billy Delgado’s body came to the end of its struggle as he drew his last bubbly breath. Scattered across the floor of the van behind him was the cause of it all, a sad little mix of wrapped and loose bills and coins amounting to a lousy $20,112.36. A moment later, the van’s engine also gave up its futile struggle against the chain-link fence, and it died too.

•••

Coming Tuesday: Part 8 – Robbers flee the area near the bank, and reinforcements join the pursuit.

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Norco ’80, part 6: One deputy is on the scene and others arrive quickly to confront bank robbers

Norco ’80
The true story of the most spectacular bank robbery in American history
Parts1 2 3 4 5 6 of 14

The only way Riverside County Sheriff’s dispatcher Gary Keeter could explain what went down in Norco that day was that it had all happened so fast. “Riverside to Norco units, have a 211 in progress at the Security Pacific Bank at Fourth and Hamner.”

Within two seconds of Keeter’s initial dispatch, deputy Glyn Bolasky responded, “3-Edward-50, 1097,” indicating his radio ID and 1097, the code for “officer on scene.”

Bolasky was already 1097? thought Keeter. He was never en route. “Riverside to all, clear the air,” Keeter added, instructing all nonessential radio traffic to cease.

Deputy Glyn Bolasky had been stopped in the left turn lane at Hamner and Fourth Street staring straight at the Security Pacific Bank when Keeter’s 211 tone for a robbery in progress went out. Activating his overhead lights, he made the left onto Fourth Street toward the east entrance of the parking lot, scanning the lot and bank building as he went. Immediately, Bolasky heard a muffled popping noise and saw red and blue plastic falling around his unit. Momentarily distracted, Bolasky never saw the man in the ski mask standing beside the green van shooting out his light bar with an assault rifle.

On the phone at the dispatch center, Gladys Wiza scribbled something on an index card and slid it in front of Keeter. Keeter looked down. Now we got a real problem, he thought.  “3-Edward-50,” he radioed. “The suspect vehicle is a green van with weapons.”

If Bolasky heard the transmission at all, it was too late to do anything about it. As he swung his patrol car into the bank parking lot, four men in black ski masks and olive-drab field jackets came into view no more than two car lengths in front of Bolasky’s unit. An instant later, Bolasky’s windshield glazed into an intricate spider web as three rounds crashed through it. He felt his face and arms go hot as flying glass peppered him like birdshot. The young deputy threw his body across the bench seat for cover.  “3-Edward-50 taking fire!” he yelled into his mic, gunshots in the background cracking with the irregular cadence of popping corn.

Only 28 seconds after initial dispatch, Keeter keyed up the dispatch mic again. “It’s a green van. It’s Fourth and Hamner. They are shooting.”


The robbers carjacked a van to use in the robbery, which was disabled as the fled the Security Pacific Bank in Norco. Getaway driver Billy Delgado was shot and killed as he drove away. (Photo courtesy of Riverside Sheriff’s Office)

Manny Delgado walked in front of the van, lowered the riot gun, and unloaded several booming shotgun blasts. “We’ve got a hostage in here!” George Smith screamed in Bolasky’s direction, but the only thing Glyn Bolasky could hear were bullets ripping into the metal surrounding him, blowing out windows, the muzzle blasts echoing back from a cinder block wall behind him. There was sharp pain in his left shoulder as a round came through the dashboard, sending fragments of lead and copper jacketing into his flesh.

Still lying across the bench seat, Bolasky grabbed the steering wheel with one hand, jerked the gearshift into reverse, and slammed on the accelerator. Bullets pinged off the Impala as it shot backward out of the parking lot onto Fourth Street, clipping a Ford Thunderbird driven by 15-year-old Jody Ann Tygart, behind the wheel taking a driving lesson from her father. Swerving into the oncoming lane, the Thunderbird sideswiped a Buick Regal and careened eastbound on Fourth Street, coming to a stop 75 feet beyond Bolasky. There was a sharp crack as a bullet came through the back window and fragmented, grazing Darryel Tygart on the side of the head and hitting his daughter Jody Ann in the back.

Traveling another 30 feet east on Fourth Street in reverse, Bolasky’s vehicle skidded to a stop sideways in the middle of the road. Throwing the release on the shotgun mount, Bolasky felt blood running down his face and arm. “I’ve been hit!” he radioed.


Deputy Glyn Bolasky’s car was shot up and the deputy injured as soon as he arrived at the bank. Over the course of the gun battle 32 police vehicles were destroyed or disabled. (Photo courtesy of Riverside Sheriff’s Office)

Two seconds later, Keeter sent out the transmission that changed everything: “Officer hit. Clear the air. 1199.”

Across Riverside County, every patrol car in the field, every detective at a desk, every undercover narc on stakeout, every helicopter in the sky, every officer from California Highway Patrol, Riverside PD, or the RSO stopped what he or she was doing to converge on the intersection of Fourth and Hamner.

•••

Crouching behind the Impala holding his shotgun, Glyn Bolasky heard the screeching of tires as the van came out of the bank parking lot and turned away from him toward Hamner. When Bolasky came up with the shotgun, the back windows of the van exploded out and he began taking fire from the men inside. With bullets striking the body of the patrol unit in front of him, Bolasky pumped all four rounds from the Wingmaster at the rear of the van 25 feet away.

A single ball of lead the size of a standard BB traveling 1,300 feet per second flew through the length of the van and struck Billy Delgado at the base of his skull, entering the cranial cavity just north of the medulla oblongata. Instantly, Billy’s somatic nervous system ceased relaying voluntary commands below that point. But the medulla itself dutifully carried on its job of running the autonomic nervous system that kept Billy’s vital organs functioning. Passing through the brain stem, that one shot of #4 buck punched a hole through the cartilage wall of his trachea, allowing his still-beating heart to pump blood into his still-breathing lungs. That’s when Billy Delgado began the process of slowly drowning in his own blood.

Without Billy, the van decelerated and drifted harmlessly off the road into a chain-link fence on the north side of Fourth Street, coming to a stop just a few feet short of Hamner Avenue.

•••

The moment George Smith realized the van was not moving, he knew what had happened to his driver. Billy was slumped limply to the right side, involuntarily convulsing. In the passenger seat, Manny was shaking him, calling his name, trying to push him up straight. But Billy’s body was dead weight.

“I’m getting out of here,” Chris yelled. “I’m not getting toasted in this van.”

“Go out the back,” George said, grabbing duffel bags and tossing them in the direction of the side cargo door. “We need another vehicle.”

Chris put a foot up on the back seat and went straight out the shattered back window still holding his Heckler. He fell onto the street and then popped up, aiming the assault rifle toward the police car still sideways in the road. Russ followed his brother out the same way with the “Shorty” AR. Manny grabbed the riot gun, climbed over his dying brother, and out the driver’s door. Alone in the van, George grabbed his Heckler .308. and took a final look around. His eyes settled on the cabinet holding their hostage and saw it punctured and gouged with buckshot. That dude was dead, for sure.

•••

Glyn Bolasky tossed his empty shotgun onto the pavement, drew his .357 Python service revolver, and crouched behind the front tire again. With a break in the gunfire, he came up, aiming the gun over the hood of the Impala. Standing at the rear of the van was a man holding a rifle at his hip with the barrel leveled directly at Bolasky. Staring out from the single eye hole in a black ski mask, he did not look so much like a man as he did some sort of gothic nightmare, a hooded executioner about to drop the guillotine.


Riverside deputy Glyn Bolasky was shot by the robbers as he responded to the Security Pacific bank in Norco. (Photo by Riverside Press-Enterprise)

The two men fired at each other almost simultaneously, Bolasky getting off a single round, which hit low, throwing up a puff of dirt and asphalt. He dove back down behind the front tire, rounds striking his patrol unit, zinging off the pavement, whizzing homicidally overhead. When he came up again, there was a second man alongside the first, each firing from the hip. Bolasky raised his .357 and got off two more rounds. Then something jerked his left arm backward. When he looked, there was a hole on the inside of his left elbow. Blood began squirting onto his face.

•••

A mile directly north on Hamner Avenue at the Donut Corral on Sixth Street, deputies Chuck Hille and Andy Delgado threw down their coffee cups and jumped into their vehicles at the first 211 dispatch. The two men split up, Delgado heading down Hamner and Hille paralleling him on Sierra.

Turning westbound onto Fourth Street from Sierra, rounds struck the radiator and hood of Hille’s patrol unit so hard he felt the impacts resonating through the frame of the Plymouth Fury. “2-Edward-59, we’re taking fire now,” Hille radioed. He began zigzagging his car to evade gunfire and then jerked the wheel right, heading into a dirt lot. As he skidded his cruiser to a stop, Hille heard a chilling transmission coming from Bolasky.

“3-Edward-50, I’m bleeding badly. I have an artery hit. I need help!”

Hille threw open the driver’s door and headed toward Bolasky’s position, dashing the last 50 feet across a wide-open field of fire as bullets thudded into the dirt around him. When he reached Bolasky, what he saw alarmed him. There were fragments of glass embedded in his fellow deputy’s face, and blood was dripping from his chin and cheeks onto his uniform shirt. Bolasky was pale white and gripping his left elbow.

Let me see it, Hille said. Bolasky lifted his hand off the wound and a jet of blood spurted onto Hille’s uniform. Hille clamped Bolasky’s hand back over the elbow to stop the bleeding. Another tire on the Impala took a round and blew out. Hille reached for Bolasky’s .357. He emptied the spent rounds from the cylinder, reloaded and pushed the gun back into Bolasky’s hand. Let’s get to those trees, Hille said, helping Bolasky to his feet. The two men took off running to a row of eucalyptus trees.

Chuck Hille knew he needed to get Glyn Bolasky out of there. “Stay here,” he said. For a second time, Hille crossed the open field to his unit parked in the dirt lot. There was the sound of shotgun blasts and then the cracking of rifles as he ran, but this time there was no sign of rounds striking anywhere near him.

Reaching his patrol unit, Hille swung a big looping U-turn, crossed the dirt lot and Fourth Street, jumped the curb, and pulled up to Bolasky’s location. “Get in the back!” he called. Bolasky dove into the back seat. Hille took off away from the intersection and turned right onto Sierra, focused on a single task: get Glyn Bolasky to Corona Community Hospital before he bled out in the back seat of an RSO patrol unit.

Chuck Hille did not know the reason why he had not taken fire as he ran back to his car that final time. The gunmen had abruptly shifted their attention to a man standing behind the door of a Riverside County Sheriff’s patrol unit on Hamner Avenue, pumping shotgun blasts into their midst. That man was deputy Andy Delgado.

•••

Coming Sunday: Part 7 – Deputy Andy Delgado enters the fray and engages in fire with the bank robbers.

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Norco ’80, part 5: Bank robbery starts, and it’s a race against the clock

Norco ’80
The true story of the most spectacular bank robbery in American history
Parts1 2 3 4 5 of 14

Eighteen-year-old James Kirkland was filling out a deposit slip at the island in the center of the Security Pacific Bank lobby when he heard someone threaten to blow his head off. When he turned to look, Chris Harven stepped in front of him, pulled an assault rifle out from under a green military poncho, and aimed it straight at his head. Kirkland hit the floor.

“Everyone down,” George Smith commanded, swinging his HK91 from one terrified customer to the next until all dozen or so had complied. “This is a robbery, everyone down!”

Customer Beverly Beam was seated in a chair against the wall next to the entrance waiting for the new accounts manager when the masked men burst through the door. Afraid any movement would surprise the gunmen, she froze. George Smith caught sight of her, whirled and aimed the Heckler at her. “Do you want your head blown off?” he shouted. She shook her head, no. “Then get on the floor.” Beam went down onto her stomach.

Seated at her desk, assistant branch manager Sharon Higman saw an opportunity to trigger the silent alarm mounted just below the edge of the desktop. But the moment she began to move her hand, Chris Harven had the assault rifle trained on her from 20 feet away. “If you hit that alarm, I will shoot your head off,” he growled. Higman lifted her hands where he could see them and sat down on the floor beside her desk.

“If there are any alarms or anything,” Smith barked, roaming between customers flattened out on the marble floor, “there are going to be a lot of dead people here. We have explosives. We won’t be afraid to use them.”

Manny Delgado crossed the bank lobby holding the riot gun at his hip and then vaulted the teller line. Standing atop the counter, he swept the barrel of his shotgun along the row of four cashiers manning their windows below. “You heard him, hit the floor!” he bellowed.

Standing behind the teller line sorting checks, proof operator Denise DeMarco was so frightened at the sight of the shotgun that she began to back away rather than sit down as ordered. “Get down on the floor!” Delgado exploded, lifting the shotgun in her direction. The petrified DeMarco continued to back away. “Please get down, Denise,” one of the tellers begged. DeMarco reached the rear wall of the bank. Terrified, but unable to retreat any further, she slid down the wall and took a seat on the floor.

Delgado ordered the four line tellers to get up and threw a blue drawstring bag onto the counter. “Put the money in it!”

Tellers Janice Harper, Sharon Marzolf and Teresa DeRuyter emptied their drawers into the bag, DeRuyter adding her traceable bait money before passing it on to Marlene Faust. Faust put her cash in the bag and passed it back toward Delgado. Nobody in the bank knew it, but while Delgado had been busy threatening Denise DeMarco, Faust had remained calm enough to trigger the silent alarm button mounted beside her drawer. But Marlene Faust’s silent alarm would do the customers and employees in Norco no good. Due to an installation error, the alarm had been transmitted to the police department in the neighboring city of Corona. Within minutes, police units were descending on the Corona branch of the Security Pacific National Bank, 5 miles away from the robbery in progress.

•••

While Manny Delgado terrorized the teller line, Christopher Harven worked on getting at the big money. Harven turned his rifle on branch manager Ron Richter, seated on the floor with the other employees. “Come on, Manager, we’re going across the lobby.”

Seated nearby, assistant manager Sharon Higman knew that Richter was about to have a serious problem on his hands: There was no more money in the vault. Just an hour before, Richter had called for an armored car delivery of additional bills, but the delivery was late. Anticipating a volatile situation once the gunman saw there was no more cash in the main vault, Higman called over to the second assistant branch manager, Cynthia Schlax. “Cindy, give them the keys to the nests,” she said, referring to the individual teller back-up currency in the vault, usually about $2,000 to $5,000 each.

“You come, too,” Harven ordered Schlax.

“One minute left!” George Smith called out, checking his watch as he continued to pace the floor back and forth, menacing the prone customers with the Heckler. Smith looked over at Russell Harven guarding the west entrance against anyone going in or out during the heist. Standing behind an artificial ficus tree, Harven was transfixed on the activity within the bank, neglecting the only task he had been assigned. “Watch the door!” Smith barked at him.

When Russ turned back, it was too late. A woman opened the side entrance and walked inside the bank clutching her purse. Already a nervous young lady, Sheila Deno now seemed utterly paralyzed trying to comprehend the scene before her. Almost as surprised as Deno, Russell Harven stepped out from behind the tree and aimed the “Shorty” AR at Deno from 5 feet away, ordering her to the ground. Deno stood stone still, her eyes darting from the bodies strewn facedown across the lobby floor to the man standing on the teller counter waving a shotgun and back to the one in the ski mask aiming the gun in her face.

“Get the (expletive) down!” Russ yelled again.

Sharon Higman, seated on the floor at Deno’s feet, reached up and took ahold of Deno’s wrist, yanking her to the floor.

•••

The moment vault teller Janet Dessormeau realized there was a robbery in progress, she had pulled closed the steel side entrance door to the vault, locking herself and employee Gail Altenburger inside. However, she had no time to swing shut the heavy main vault door. Now the only thing between the two women and the heavily armed man coming toward them was the grill gate.

Harven stuck the barrel of the Heckler through the bars of the gate. “You better get this vault open.”

Dessormeau nodded, went to the side door, and opened it. Chris pushed Richter and Cindy Schlax inside and then shoved Dessormeau up against the wall of the vault with his rifle. “Don’t look at me,” he said. Dessormeau shifted her eyes to the floor as Schlax opened the teller nests, hoping Harven might not notice that the larger reserve area of the vault was completely bare. Ron Richter scooped bills from the teller nests into a drawstring bag held by Schlax. “We have no reserve currency,” she whispered to him. “I know,” he said.

“Stop wasting time,” Chris growled, poking Richter in the ribs with the gun.

“Thirty seconds left!” George called out from the lobby area.

At the west entrance to the bank, Russell Harven did not notice Miriam Tufts approaching the door to the bank until the woman had pulled it wide open. Russ stepped out from behind the plant to face her. Tufts looked back at the two eyes staring out from the ski mask and then glanced down at the jet-black assault rifle in the man’s hands. Without a word, Tufts turned and left, the door swinging shut behind her. “Don’t go in there, the place is being robbed,” she warned two customers crossing the parking lot.

At the same time, 17-year-old getaway driver Billy Delgado was running into trouble of his own outside the main entrance. Heart pounding, gulping in shallow breaths, Billy had been so busy trying see what was going on in the bank that he never saw Debi Paggen approaching. Paggen walked directly in front of the green van to the entrance of the bank, but paused and looked back just as she reached for the door. When she did, Paggen found Billy Delgado leaning across the passenger seat pointing a handgun out the window at her.

Paggen let go of the door handle. “Go ahead and rob the bank,” she said, “I’m not going in there.”

The boy with the gun said nothing, his hand shaking as he aimed it at her. Paggen backed away slowly and then turned toward the rear of the van and out of his line of fire.

At the two-minute mark, George Smith called out again. “Time. Now!”

Clutching his bag of coins and bills, Manny Delgado leapt down from the teller counter and made his way to the middle of the bank. Russell Harven abandoned his post at the west entrance and joined the other two. When Chris Harven did not immediately appear, Smith ran to the vault. “Quit stalling,” he screamed at bank manager Ron Richter. “It’s taking too much time!”

But they had already run out of time. Two minutes earlier, a customer getting out of her car at the Redlands Federal Savings Bank on the other side of the intersection happened to look in the direction of the Security Pacific Bank. Racing inside Redlands Federal, the woman approached teller Maria Casa Grande. “I just saw four men with guns go inside the bank across the street!”

At 3:32 p.m., veteran dispatcher Gladys Wiza took an incoming call at the headquarters of the Riverside County Sheriff. Scrawling the info on a notecard, she handed it to deputy Gary Keeter, who was working the dispatch mic. At about the same moment George Smith yelled “Time. Now!” Keeter dropped a priority alert tone over the Riverside County Sheriff’s radio system: “Riverside to all Norco units. 211 in progress, Security Pacific Bank, Fourth and Hamner.”

Billy Delgado had just slid the .45 Colt automatic back into the ankle holster after scaring off Debi Paggen when his side mirror lit up with flashing blue and red lights. Jerking his head around, he settled on a police car making a left turn from Hamner onto Fourth Street, its light bar whirling. Billy fumbled for the walkie-talkie in his lap and pressed the talk button.

Inside the vault, George Smith’s radio crackled to life. “The cops are here,” came the trembling voice of Billy Delgado.

George and Chris looked at each other. “There’s no way,” Chris said.

“Let’s go, let’s go!” called Smith, bolting from the vault area to the north entrance of the bank.

Still lying on the floor of the bank lobby, 18-year-old James Kirkland kept his cheek to the carpet as the boots of the four men stomped by inches from his head. “We’ve been seen,” one of the men called out as they passed. “Let’s go, we’ve been seen.” The door flew open and the men ran out. Before the door swung itself closed again, Kirkland heard a final voice yell, “There’s one!”

That’s when the shooting started.

•••

Coming Saturday: Part 6 – Shooting starts outside the bank and the robbers’ plans change on the fly.

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No more stressing over selfies

Snapping selfies may seem like an innocuous activity of today’s youth, but the anxiety that comes with choosing the perfect image could have harmful effects. A recent study out of the University of Arizona found that teen girls who fret over which photo of themselves to post on social media or who heavily use photo editing apps are more likely to self-objectify than those who don’t.

Interestingly, it isn’t the act of taking selfies that brings excessive anxiety about appearance but, rather, the overanalysis of those selfies that can lead teens to be more critical of their appearance.

Published in the Journal of Children and Media, the study examined the selfie-editing processes of 278 girls, ages 14 to 17. Apps like Facetune can brighten teeth, change the sizes of lips and noses and remove blemishes in just a few taps. Researchers found that the time and effort put into such apps by teen girls correlates with feeling more shameful and anxious about their appearance.

To help parents of teens spot the signs of appearance anxiety and employ ways to help improve their teen’s body image, we sat down with Rachel Coleman, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Mission Viejo. She has more than 12 years of experience treating eating disorders and is the co-host of “Mom Genes The Podcast.” (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

OC Family: Why do you think so many teens are fretting over selfies and editing their images?

Coleman: Our culture rewards attractiveness, glamorizes sexuality and celebrates weight loss. This messaging trickles down to the high schools and allows the students with more physical attractiveness (usually in thinner, fitter bodies wearing more revealing clothing) to become more powerful in the high school hierarchy. Editing photos, taking multiple shots, posting the “perfect” photo is a teen’s way of attempting to gain control of their social standing and increase power over their social status.

OCF: What are some general signs that a teen is struggling with body image and shame issues?

Coleman: Teens may engage in obsessive thinking, as evidenced by increased time taking photos, editing and then deleting them in frustration, disgust over appearance in photos, refusal to take family photos at the holidays and anxiety over their outfits at school dances or social gatherings that lead to indecision on which outfit to wear or refusal to attend the event.

OCF: What are some other body shame behaviors parents should look out for?

Coleman: Mirror “body checking” — looking at their body from multiple angles, pinching and scrutinizing body parts, hiding their body in looser fitting clothing, refusing to wear bathing suits, isolating in their room, attempting elimination diets in the name of weight loss, increasing exercise that is a compensation for food eaten, or eating larger amounts of food than usual while isolating are all behaviors to look out for.

OCF: What are some of the self-image and body shaming risks associated with social media use?

Coleman: Inappropriate emphasis placed on the teen’s appearance and body size is the key risk in social media use. Visual tools such as editing software or filters only add to this risk because it is giving the teen the subtle message that their organic, photographed self is not good enough.

OCF: How can parents open and continue a conversation about body image with their teens?

Coleman: Supporting your teen through this phase can include the balanced guidance of listening and coaching, having a safe space for the teen to talk by decreasing your judgment and withholding your lectures, and sharing your own struggles from the past or present to find a sense of self. A teen will struggle to find body peace if the parent has not found the same body peace.

OCF: What are some effective strategies parents and teens can employ to help improve their body image?

Coleman: Helping teens develop value and belief systems and visualize their future (unless it induces anxiety) can help with improving body image. Some concrete ways families can create safe spaces include eating meals together as much as possible, covering closet mirrors with posters of adventure places or positive quotes for daily reminders or reduction of body obsession and setting a vibe of body positivity in the home.

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When a pregnancy fails, surrogacy is a second chance

Get married, have children, raise them and send them to college. For Zulma Vega, thosewere all stages of a full life.

She had done the first, marrying Leonel, in 2003. But the second step of having children was proving difficult. So, in 2017, she undertook in vitro fertility treatment, and her doctor transferred one of four embryos to her wombthat May. Months later, the pregnancy ended in a loss due to cervix incompetence, which poses a severe riskof premature birth.

After the failed pregnancy, one of Vega’s four sisters, who are all close, spoke to Vega’s doctor and offered herself as a surrogate. Vega didn’t know it at the time — and didn’t even know that surrogacy was an option.

“We had no clue about surrogacy up to that point,” said Vega, who is now 42 and lives in San Juan Capistrano. “I think it’s one of the things that people don’t talk about, or they’re afraid to talk about their fertility issues.”

The sister who had made the offer, Marisol Cervantes, already had three children with her husband and wasn’t planning to grow her own family more when she stepped forward to return Vega’s generosity and help give her the family she had dreamed of.

When Vega lost the baby, “that was heartbreaking for everybody,” said Cervantes, 37, who lives in Mission Viejo. “She’s a really good person. For all our baby showers, me and my sisters, she’s there for us all the time. She’s just that person.”

At a family gathering soon after losing her baby, Vega announced that one of her sisters had offered to be a surrogate.

“I never planned to do something like this. I never really thought about it until I knew my sister couldn’t have kids, and then I jumped in to help her,” Cervantes said. “It’s such a rewarding thing to do for somebody else, especiallyif you know their story and how bad they want a family.”

That step was just the beginning.

Vega and her husband visited a therapist who confirmed they would be capable parents. Cervantes, like all surrogates, went through both a medical screening to ensure her body could handle pregnancy and a psychological evaluation. Following standard protocol for surrogacies, the two sisters hired separate lawyers for the legal contract, which they each signed along with their husbands.

Cervantes took hormone medications for two months to prepare her body to receive one of the embryos Vega had already created. On the first attempt, she became pregnant.

Women from all walks of life turn to surrogacy when they are unable to have children themselves, says Dr. Jane Frederick, reproductive endocrinologist at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center, who also is Vega’s fertility specialist. Some have previous pregnancies that ended poorly. Cancer forces some to have hysterectomies, while others are born with eggs and ovaries but no uterus.

Surrogates have their own reasons for offering to carry another family’s baby, and many have altruistic motives, Frederick says, adding that some ask to work with gay couples in particular. Prospective parents should work with an agency to find a surrogate, and not search for one online.

“It’s always about how comfortable the intended parents feel and how comfortable is the surrogate working with that couple?” Frederick said.

When Frederick started working on fertility issues 30 years ago, there weren’t good techniques for in vitro fertilization or developing embryos in the laboratory, so doctors used the surrogate’s own egg and performed artificial insemination. But improving technology made it possible to use eggs from the prospective mother.

“That helped to alleviate any legal issues down the road because the genetic link is to the intended parents,” Frederick said. “So, it’s less likely the surrogate will change her mind and say that’s my baby since she’snot genetically related to the baby.”

In vitro fertilization methods have grown more advanced as well, making the process much safer. In the past, women undergoing in vitro treatment were more likely to have a high-risk pregnancy with two, three or even four babies. Today, doctors can select one embryo for transfer.

The whole process can cost prospective parents $100,000 to $150,000, including legal fees, psychological evaluation fees, in vitro fertilization treatment and the stipend for the surrogate, Frederick says. The surrogate may receive $25,000 to $30,000.

Women choose to become surrogates for their own combination of reasons, including altruism and the monetary compensation, according to Dr. Rachael Lopez, an OBGYN at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center, who also is Cervantes’ doctor. But the realities of surrogacy — getting paid to carry someone else’s baby for nine months — mean that hired surrogates often come from a lower socio-economic background, Lopez says. Pregnancy always comes with medical risks, and even a small chance of dying.

“If you were a career woman with your own children and a two-parent working family, I’m not sure how easily that would fit into your lifestyle to be pregnant and care for someone else’s baby,” Lopez said, adding that it’s common for military wives to be surrogates. “It’s not entirely without risk. For a lot of families, you would have to ask, ‘Is this dollar amount worth the risk?’ ”

Tales of surrogates refusing to give away the baby are less common than people might believe, Lopez says. Counseling prepares them and they know their role in the process.

“I would imagine the mom has to wall herself off a little bit. Growing a baby is such an intimate and personal experience, feeling those movements. You feel a relationship with that baby that no one else has. You have to put a little wall around your heart,” she added.

Parents choose surrogacy for a variety of reasons, usually related to health and often because of severe health problems affecting fertility, according to Lopez. Maybe it’s no longer safe for the woman to have higher hormone levels. Maybe she has a chronic disease or auto-immune issues, or blood clotting-related disorders. Maybe surgery or an emergency operation affected the woman’s fertility, or a prior pregnancy caused health problems.

For Cervantes, the purpose for her surrogacy was clear.

“A lot of people think that you’re going to walk out thinking it’s your child,” Cervantes said. “If you’re doing it for the right reasons, to help somebody have a family, it just feels really good to do something like that.”

Vega’s daughter was born in December 2018, and Vega named her Marisol after her sister. Vega also made Cervantes the baby’s godmother.

Today, Cervantes is pregnant with Vega’s second child, who is due in September. She plans to carry a third child for her sister as long as everything goes as well as expected.

“It’s a unique thing that somebody’s willing to do it for you three times — not just once, not just twice,but three times,” Vega said. “I want people to know that there are options because it’s so painful to go through infertility issues ourselves, as a couple, as a woman, because we have so much love to give.”

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Norco ’80, part 3: Even near ‘Bank Robbery Capital,’ deputies couldn’t know what was coming

Norco ’80
The true story of the most spectacular bank robbery in American history

Parts

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If you had robbed a bank in the greater Los Angeles metro area on May 9, 1980, you would not have been alone. Los Angeles was the undisputed “Bank Robbery Capital of the World,” with one-quarter of all bank heists in the United States committed withing the jurisdiction of the L.A. field office of the FBI, which included Riverside and San Bernardino counties. By 1980, an average of six banks were being robbed each business day. More than 1,500 a year. The reason was simple: freeways.

The Southern California car culture had resulted in a sprawling landscape ideal for bank robbery. By hitting a bank near a freeway on-ramp, a holdup man could jump on and off and be cruising side streets 5 miles away before the cops even arrived at the crime scene. Have the foresight to park a second “cold” getaway car a few miles away and you were gone-baby-gone.

When George Wayne Smith announced to Chris Harven that he had the perfect bank for the job, his decision was not based on the cardinal rule of L.A. bank robbery. From the Norco branch of the Security Pacific Bank it was 4 miles south and nine miles north to the closest freeway. There was a different reason George had targeted the bank at Fourth and Hamner.

Chris was dumbfounded. “You’re going to rob your own bank?”

•••

The sun had crested over the San Gabriel Mountains on the morning of Friday, May 9, when the deputies on the 6 a.m. shift began arriving at the Riverside Sheriff’s Office. The RSO, as the men who worked there called it, covered most of a county larger than the state of Delaware stretching from the edge of the Los Angeles metro area to the Arizona border. The larger cities in the county had their own police departments. The California Highway Patrol ruled the freeways. The RSO got what sheriff’s departments always got: everything else.

Three-quarters of the population of Riverside County was centered in an area west of the San Gabriel Mountains known as the Inland Empire, called I.E. by the locals.

The I.E. of 1980 was a dusty, hot and smoggy land populated by a blue-collar, ragweed-smoking, hard-rocking population as tough as that of any Pennsylvania steel or Texas cow town, of which it was a little of both.

With unemployment rising along with the proliferation of street gangs and drugs throughout the 1970s, it only got rougher. Cops were increasingly coming up against weapons they had never seen before. There were already rumblings among RSO deputies about their need for more powerful, high-capacity weapons to combat what was emerging on the streets. So far, Riverside sheriff Ben Clark had deflected the issue. Few of the deputies had the confidence to put their concerns in writing to the sheriff, but one did. He was a veteran deputy named James Bernard Evans.

•••

Deputy Jim Evans came into the briefing room wearing his brown-and-olive patrol uniform and a Stetson cowboy hat. Evans was a Texan, a Special Forces Green Beret who had seen combat on some of the riskiest deep-jungle missions in the Vietnam War. At 39, Evans was one of the older deputies on the force, easygoing and highly respected. He was handsome, 6 feet tall and trim, with sandy-blond hair and mustache and hazel eyes that looked out at the world through the thick lenses of early-’60s-era tortoiseshell eyeglasses. He had a soft West Texas drawl and countrified vocabulary. Evans had been a city cop but felt penned in by the urban landscape and made the move to the more far-ranging sheriff’s department.


Deputy Jim Evans, who was killed in the 1980 Norco bank robbery. (Courtesy of the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association)

Deputy Dave Madden entered the room. Evans looked him over. “Are those new boots you got on, Brother Madden?” he said.

“Indeed, they are,” Madden replied with a smile, taking a seat next to Evans.

Dave Madden was an outlier of the force. Raised a Roman Catholic, he could quote everyone from Lao Tzu and John Lennon to the Jewish philosopher Maimonides. He spoke fluent Klingon, responded to calls with the theme to “Star Wars” blasting from a handheld tape player, and shaved his head on a whim. His colleagues called him a hippie and nicknamed him “Mad Dog” Madden.

More of the two-shift deputies sat down around the table. At 23, A. J. Reynard was the youngest deputy on the entire RSO. Cajun by heritage, Reynard had a uniquely SoCal mix of hyperkinetic energy and laid-back attitude with a vocabulary somewhere between surfer and stoner. Fred Chisholm was a tall, good-natured, and deceptively tough transplant from a blue-collar town just outside Boston who still retained his thick regional accent. Veteran Ken McDaniels had just finished radiation treatments for Hodgkin’s disease the week before and was about to work a full Friday shift for the first time in months.

Shift sergeant Ed Giles set a folder down and took a seat at the head of the table. The men turned their attention to the briefing. Giles pointed out a few hot spots, ran through a list of the latest bank robberies, and warned the patrol officers of a possible gang riot at Rubidoux High School. The men groaned. Nobody wanted to get assigned to a riot.

Giles gave Rubidoux to Reynard and McDaniels and told them to keep a high visibility around the school. As usual, deputies Chuck Hille and Andy Delgado would cover the contract town of Norco.

At the conclusion of the briefing, the deputies of the two-shift went to the board, grabbed a radio and keys to one of the available cruisers, and checked out a shotgun for the day. As usual, the only other weapon they would carry was a six-shot revolver firing county-issued soft lead rounds.

•••


Riverside deputy Andy Delgado arrived at the scene of the robbery and immediately ended up in a gun battle with the bad guys. (Photo courtesy of Andy Monti)

Deputy Andy Delgado sat in a chair across the desk from sheriff Ben Clark waiting nervously. Andy was sure he was about to get dressed down over a fight he had with another deputy at a party two weeks before. The whole thing had been stupid, just a dustup over an off-color remark by a drunk fellow deputy. If Delgado had any triggers, one was his Mexican heritage and the other was his size, a generous 5-foot-4, 145 pounds. The drunk deputy – a solid 6-footer who outweighed Delgado by 60 pounds – had managed to pull both. A champion wrestler and accomplished judo competitor, Andy had made quick work of the much larger man.

Clark put down the report and took a sip of his coffee, studying Delgado over the rim of the cup. “Well, deputy Delgado,” he said, finally. Here it comes, Andy thought. “I’ve been reading nothing but superior reviews about your performance for years now and we think you’d make a good detective. Is that something you would be interested in?”

Andy looked back at the man for a few seconds. “What?”

•••

There was no way Andy Delgado should have ended up a cop. The illegitimate child of a poor, 15-year-old Latina with drug and alcohol problems. Abandoned by his birth mother, raised by a grandmother who died a violent death, passed around among relatives who either could not afford or did not want him, placed under the jurisdiction of Child Protective Services, and housed in facilities run by the California Youth Authority. On paper, his childhood history was the familiar trajectory that led far too many young Mexican Americans into street gangs and the California correctional system.

Andy’s childhood had been one of abandonment, rejection and tragedy, but it had also been one of salvation. After walking out of two lockdown orphanages at age 12, Andy was in danger of becoming a long-term inductee into the juvenile corrections system. But at a court hearing to determine Andy’s future, a young cop named Darrell Creed, who had befriended Andy years before, agreed to foster the boy until he was old enough to go out on his own.

From then on, Andy Delgado knew he wanted to be a cop like Darrell Creed. However, the experience of being abandoned, locked up, bullied and treated unfairly was one that Andy never forgot.

Delgado reflected on his life as he drove to his beat in Norco. After all he had been through, things were finally falling into place. A family of his own, on the verge of a college degree, and now a promotion and pay raise to detective.

Andy had grown quite fond of Norco with its quirky Old West feel. Where else in the greater L.A. metro area did residents keep horses in their backyard and ride them to the supermarket to pick up a loaf of bread? “HorseTown USA,” it called itself.

Delgado began his patrol by driving the length of Hamner Avenue. It was a usual busy Friday but otherwise calm. By midafternoon, deputy Chuck Hille noticed Andy was not generating his usual amount of radio traffic running plates, reporting suspicious activity and bringing in arrests. An experienced cop, Hille was a stout ex-high school football star with an intellectual manner of speaking that some of his fellow deputies found off-putting.


An aerial view of the Security Pacific Bank that was hit by the robbers. (Photo courtesy of Riverside Sheriff’s Office)

About 3 in the afternoon, an hour before the end of their shift, Hille radioed Delgado for a 1087 meet-up at the Stater Bros. supermarket parking lot at Fourth Street and Hamner Avenue, the busiest intersection in town. In addition to the always-bustling market, the intersection was anchored by other popular businesses: a Carl’s Jr. fast-food restaurant, Redlands Federal Savings Bank, Murphy’s Hay & Grain, and, directly across Hamner, the Norco branch of the Security Pacific National Bank.

Arriving at the parking lot a few minutes later, the two deputies pulled their patrol cars side by side in opposite directions, so they could talk.

“You’re pretty quiet today, Andy,” Hille said.

“I’ve been taking it easy, Chuck,” Andy smiled.  “I just got promoted to detective.”

Hille nodded his head approvingly and smiled in his understated way. “That’s great, Andy,” he said. “You’re a good cop, and I’m really happy for you.”

Andy was surprised and a bit touched to hear Hille say it. The two men had their share of disagreements over the years.

Over the radio, deputy Glyn Bolasky signed on to start the “cover watch” that bridged the transition between the two-shift and night shift. Between the hours of 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., the RSO would have three deputies patrolling Norco rather than just two.

“Come on, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee at the Donut Corral,” Hille said, referring to a shop a mile north on Sixth Street.

As they sped away, the two deputies barely took notice of the green van parked just 50 feet away in the supermarket lot. But the five heavily armed men sitting inside the van had certainly noticed them. The unexpected arrival of the sheriff’s patrol units had even caused them to consider calling the whole thing off. But when the two RSO units suddenly peeled off and headed up Hamner Avenue, the leader of the men inside the van made his decision.

The time was 3:25 p.m.

•••

Coming Thursday: Part 4 – Once they have the van, it’s time to move on the bank.

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‘American Idol’ crowns Just Sam the winner during finale

Just Sam (Samantha Diaz) is officially 2020’s “American Idol” winner. The 21-year-old Harlem native was crowned during the virtual season finale on ABC Sunday, May 17.

Local favorite Jonny West from Murrieta, who was the last Southern California performer, made it to the Top 5.

Due to the spread of novel coronavirus, “American Idol” fans were given a strange, shortened season. The show pivoted to remote performances from contestants and at-home judging from Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie. Fans cast their votes virtually for this season — the 18th season overall, but the third on ABC.

Previously, the Top 7 finalists had performed songs from their favorite songs from Disney films and delivered performances that paid tribute to their moms on Mother’s Day, before heading into this week’s finale.

  • Ringo Starr performs at Segerstrom Hall on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. (Photo by Kyusung Gong, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The Postmaster was behind the counter at the Calico Post Office. He’s always dressed neat and tidy, but his office is a mess – and he’s always misplacing mail. This leads him to have citizens and visitors to Calico deliver mail for him upon occasion. He has not been robbed, “The Mayfields usually leave us alone, but then I’ve given up logic when the Mayfields are in question,” he said during “Ghost Town Alive” at Knott’s Berry Farm.

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  • Gold medalist Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland celebrates on the podium of the men’s individual time trial event at the Summer Olympics in Pontal beach, Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday

  • Gambian President Adama Barrow greets the crowds after arriving at Banjul airport in Gambia, Thursday Jan. 26, 2017, after flying in from Dakar, Senegal. Gambia’s new president has finally arrived in the country, a week after taking the oath of office abroad amid a whirlwind political crisis. Here’s a look at the tumble of events that led to Adama Barrow’s return â and the exile of the country’s longtime leader. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

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Along with West, the remaining contestants included Just Sam, along with 22-year-old runner-up Arthur Gunn (formerly Dibesh Pokharel) originally from Nepal and now residing in Kansas; 26-year-old Bakersfield, Calif. singer-songwriter Dillon James; Louis Knight, 19, from Philadelphia, Penn.; Francisco Martin, 18, from San Francisco, Calif.; and Julia Gargano, 21 from Staten Island.

It quickly went from seven contestants to five, as Knight and Gargano were immediately eliminated. The final five were granted the opportunity to perform one last time before the voting closed. James did a soulful, twangy rendition of Eric Clapton’s “Change the World” and the cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing” that Perry noted sounded “more confident” than when he first sang it in Hawaii on the show. Martin delivered a sassy version of Harry Styles’ “Adore You” and revisited his take on “Alaska” by Maggie Rogers as fans in masks cheered him on from a balcony.

Just Sam impressed the judges with a powerful take on “American Idol” season one winner Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” and after she sang “Rise Up” by Andra Day,” Bryan said that the song was “built for her.” Gunn came in hot with Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be” and cranked out yet another version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” that had Richie noting he had “the best in style and personality.”

West broke out the keyboard for “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down,” by James & Bobby Purify, and for his final song boldly decided to go with his original “Makin’ Love.” Bryan called it “radio ready” and Perry said she could hear someone like Mark Ronson producing the song. West was the final Southern Californian constant standing after Sophia James, 20, of Long Beach and Makayla Phillips, 17, of Temecula were both eliminated the week prior.

The home audiences were also treated to a performance of Perry’s new single, “Daisies,” and Bryan’s latest, “One Margarita” Sunday night and in the finale, Just Sam joined Richie and former “American Idol” contestants for “We Are the World,” which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.

Before the show, the judges took to Twitter to talk about doing the show remotely and during a global pandemic.

“If you’re doing okay, help the person next to you,” Richie offered, noting that in a season of absolute chaos, the conclusion has come down to some amazing talent.

Perry said that although she was excited that someone would be crowned the new “American Idol” in 2020, she was a bit heartbroken for them in this moment. She was right; it was very anticlimactic having to do everything remotely with no big confetti finish, massive fanfare and in-venue celebration.

“It’s not like we can hug them,” she said. “We’re all just going to click off and it’s over. We don’t even get to go to Red Lobster or anything like that.”

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