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.
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.
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.