Chapter 4: The Final Chase
A quick warning: Some of the series includes descriptions of graphic violence. LAST WEEK ON NORCO 80:
Rosie: When we were young, he told me that he had to do something. And that was to kill somebody. He wanted to know what it felt like.
Lani: They were digging a tunnel for the purpose of if a bomb hits or something...Yeah! They would talk about stuff like that! They would talk about how it’s coming to an end.
DEPUTY ROLF PARKES WAS JUST OVER TEN MILES AWAY FROM NORCO ON MAY 9TH 1980, WHEN HE HEARD A RADIO BROADCAST ABOUT ARMED ROBBERS LEAVING A NORCO BANK SHOOTOUT.
Rolf: Yeah I had just made a car stop on somebody and I was about to issue a ticket. And I hear this stuff going on and you get that chill. I mean, it’s that that chill, it runs down your arms.
ROLF RACED TO BACKUP HIS FELLOW OFFICERS, HE WAS ONE OF AT LEAST A DOZEN COPS ON THE RADIO CHANNEL.
Radio Traffic: Quit yelling! Calm down! Where they going?
Rolf: So I'm trying to listen without saying anything on the air and you hear a lot of other people talking, I'm en route. I'm out. I'm over here. I’m over there.
Radio Traffic: Riverside I believe I counted at least five suspects I believe three got away in the yellow truck.
SOON IT BECAME CLEAR THAT THE ROBBERS WERE HEADED NORTHEAST, INTO A MAZE OF SUBURBS, AS THEY TRIED TO FLEE.
Rolf: There was no freeway that ran through Norco. So to be in, like, the center of town and having to get out wasn't really a good plan on their part to escape.
THERE WOULD BE NO EASY EXIT FOR THE ROBBERS. THERE WAS A COP WAITING AROUND ALMOST EVERY CORNER.
Radio Traffic: I’ve been hit in the leg
Shooting from the back of the truck. I’m headed for the hospital!
ROLF HEARD MEN YELLING ABOUT BEING HIT IN THE LEG AND HEADING TO THE HOSPITAL.
DEPUTY AFTER DEPUTY JUST MINUTES APART WERE REPORTING THAT THE ROBBERS WERE NOT JUST SPEEDING AWAY. THEY WERE ALSO SPRAYING BULLETS, WILDLY, FROM THE BACK OF THE PICK-UP AT ANYONE WHO APPROACHED.
Radio Traffic: The vehicle is headed on Schleismen towards Etiwanda. I’m being hit by fire.
ROLF KEPT WINDING CLOSER AND CLOSER, FOLLOWING THE RADIO TRAFFIC, UNTIL, HE DIDN’T NEED T O ANYMORE. THE ROBBERS WERE HEADED RIGHT TOWARDS HIM
ROLF: I can hear the gunfire. And I know there's no one else between me and them at the time.
Rolf: I 'm on a semi country road. I've got a horse corral on my right. And the suspects are coming down the road. I first see this thing, it wasn't exactly yellow, it's kind of like orange. I can see that it's crossing lanes coming into my lane of traffic. And I knew this wasn't good.
ROLF SAW THE ROBBERS, TWO OF THEM STANDING IN THE BED OF THE TRUCK, ONE OF THEM LEANING OUTSIDE THE PASSENGER WINDOW. THEY RAISED THEIR GUNS, LEVELING THEM AT HIM. THE TRUCK, MOVING SURPRISINGLY SLOWLY, ROLLED TOWARD HIM.
ROLF ROLLED UP HIS SIDE WINDOW AS A LAST FUTILE MOVE.
Rolf: A s the vehicle comes, I mean, like, my car is just getting chewed. You can hear the metal, the boom, boom, boom, you know, hitting, hitting the side of the car. You can hear the sound of a snapping, hitting, hitting the ground around you. You know, I'm sitting there and there's glass flying all over the all over the cab. The shards of glass had, had flaked into, really a dust and it’s landing all over my face. And there's a certain phenomena that just seem kind of strange because I'm sitting here, it looks like it's snowing inside my car, you know.
I’M ANTONIA CEREIJIDO AND FROM LAIST STUDIOS AND FUTURO STUDIOS THIS IS NORCO80, A SERIES ABOUT GOD, GUNS, SURVIVALISM AND THE BANK ROBBERY THAT CHANGED POLICING FOREVER.
CHAPTER 4: THE FINAL CHASE
George: What we're tryin' to do is hit the engines on the police vehicles to stop 'em.
Detective: U h huh.
George: To stop police vehicle. I wasn't tryin' to kill people.
AFTER THEY LEFT THE BANK, THE ROBBERS’ ESCAPE PLAN WAS TO REACH THEIR GETAWAY CARS. THEY HAD SET THEM UP BEFORE THE ROBBERY IN A PARKING LOT OF A LITTLE LEAGUE FIELD ABOUT A MILE AWAY.
GEORGE WOULD LATER TELL THE DETECTIVE ABOUT THEIR EXIT.
AND JUST A REMINDER — THESE ARE THE ACTUAL RECORDINGS THAT POLICE MADE QUESTIONING THE ROBBERS RIGHT AFTER THE ROBBERY.
Detective: You got in a truck all of yo? Who got in the cab of the truck?
George: Chris drove.
Detective: C hris drove?
George: And the three of us uh Manny, Russ and myself defended the - the vehicle.
CHRIS HARVEN DROVE THE YELLOW TRUCK, WITH MANNY IN THE PASSENGER SEAT, AND RUSS AND GEORGE STANDING IN THE BED. THE HOPE WAS THAT IF THEY COULD DITCH THE STOLEN TRUCK FOR THEIR OWN CARS - THEY COULD LOSE THE COPS.
BUT AS THEY APPROACHED THE LOT - THE MONEY LONG GONE - THEY COULD SEE POLICE CARS IN THEIR PERIPHERY AND REALIZED THEY HAD TO CHANGE COURSE.
AND SO - AS THEY DROVE THROUGH THE SURROUNDING NEIGHBORHOODS OF NORCO - THEY TRIED TO COME UP WITH A NEW PLAN.
Detective: What were you thinking about while all this was going on?
A DETECTIVE WOULD LATER ASK - WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH CHRIS’S MIND?
Chris: While this was going on? Getting away, getting away. Wishing I hadn’t done the job.
CHRIS RESPONDED ‘GETTING AWAY. WISHING I HADN’T DONE THE JOB.’ BUT AT THAT POINT, WHILE THEY WERE DESPERATELY TRYING TO ESCAPE, THEY HAD NO PLANS TO SURRENDER
Chris: George’s motto is- I’m not going to be taken prisoner, right.
CHRIS SAID GEORGE’S MOTTO WAS THAT HE WASN’T GOING TO BE TAKEN PRISONER.
A FEW SECONDS AFTER THE GLASS AND THE DUST FELL AROUND DEPUTY ROLF PARKES, THE ROBBERS WERE GONE. THEY HAD PASSED HIM.
Rolf: I ’m checking my head you know to see whether I was bleeding or how bad I was. I could see that I had some blood.
A BULLET GRAZED HIS HEAD. AND HE HAD BEEN SPRAYED WITH BROKEN GLASS BUT SOMEHOW ROLF DIDN’T HAVE ANY MAJOR DAMAGE. AND AS HE ASSESSED HIMSELF, HE DIDN’T HESITATE IN HIS NEXT MOVE.
Rolf: That fear kind of changed to anger. I was pissed, can I say that you know? I was pissed. And so I make the u-turn.
HE PUT HIS WRECK OF A CAR INTO DRIVE AND SPED AFTER THE YELLOW TRUCK.
Rolf: A s soon as I got around the corner there they are just blasting away at me just boom. They are just hitting the crap out of me and I’m not even near them now. They’re fifty to a hundred yards down the road. So I get on the air and I say I’m following the suspects and they are armed with rifles and they’re using them. And these guys are just pounding me, they’re still pounding me and they’re just shooting shooting shooting.
ROLFE TRIED TO WARN ANY OFFICERS AHEAD OF HIM OF THE FIREPOWER HE HAD JUST WITNESSED. BUT COMMUNICATION WAS JUMBLED ON THE RADIO.
THE ROBBERS WERE FIRING NON-STOP AS THE YELLOW PICKUP TRUCK BLASTED THROUGH A FOUR-WAY INTERSECTION PACKED WITH POLICE CARS.
ROLF: A ll of a sudden, you know, Herman comes along their side. You could just see as his car just explodes.
Radio Traffic: McDaniels: I’ve been hit. ROLFE: And the glass, flying everywhere. Radio Traffic: You alright?
Rolf: D ave Madden on the east side they shoot at him. Etiwanda and limonite still firing
And Wayne McDaniels is on the West side.
They shoot him through through the windshield and hit him in the shoulder.
Radio Traffic: Mad Dog: Deputy Down Etiwanda and 63rd. 11:55 Parkes: They have automatic weapons
Rolf: And so everybody's kind of stalled except for me. IN A MATTER OF SECONDS, TWO OFFICERS AND A CIVILIAN WERE SHOT AS
THE ROBBERS CONTINUED THROUGH THE SUBURBS.
IT WAS A FRIDAY AFTERNOON, THE STREETS WERE FULL OF KIDS WALKING HOME FROM SCHOOL. AS THE TRUCK BARRELLED THROUGH, RESIDENTS AND CHILDREN HID BEHIND PARKED CARS OR RAN TO SAFETY.
Radio Traffic: They’re northbound go go go. Northbound go. AS ROLF TRIED TO FOLLOW, ONCE AGAIN - THE ROBBERS SHOWERED HIM
THIS TIME, HIS CAR DIED.
Radio Traffic: You got a flat tire Rolf. Music out
BUT SOON ANOTHER DEPUTY PULLED OVER. ROLF GRABBED HIS GUN AND JUMPED IN WITH HIM.
Radio Traffic: Come on.
AT THIS POINT IN THE CHASE, IT WAS ALL HANDS ON DECK. OFFICERS WERE COMING IN TO HELP FROM ALL OVER. THERE WERE PATROL CARS FROM THE RIVERSIDE SHERIFF’S OFFICE, BUT ALSO FROM THE RIVERSIdE POLICE DEPARTMENT, AND FROM THE CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL.
Radio Traffic: Eastside units at Belgrave and Van Buren.
AS THE ROBBERS IN THE YELLOW TRUCK CONTINUED THEIR SPREE, SHOOTING AND DISABLING ANY POLICE CAR THEY SAW. ONE BULLET VEERED TO THE SIDE OF THE ROAD AND CLIPPED THE FINGER OF A KID WHO WAS RIDING A BIKE IN THE DIRT..
Radio Traffic: Patrol was that another officer shot? I am transporting an officer reynard who’s taken a round in the arm to the hospital.
AMBULANCES WERE ON THEIR WAY - AT THIS POINT, A TOTAL OF 7 DEPUTIES WERE WOUNDED.
BUT ROLF AND THE OTHER DEPUTY KEPT ON THE CHASE. THEY’D LOST SIGHT OF THE YELLOW TRUCK.
A POLICE HELICOPTER WAS NOW CIRCLING ABOVE.
Rolf: And starts giving directions. But he doesn't know the area. He just said they're going. They're going left. They're going right they’re going North. So what does that mean? You know, it's like, how does that help you? You know, it doesn't help me if you don't give a name of a street or anything like that. Which way is left? Which way?
Going in circles trying to figure out where they are, you know, cause it was just a fog of battle. It was crazy. I mean, the people must have thought we were nuts. We did at least two circles
Radio Traffic: The vehicle has just turned Northbound. I believe it’s on Etiwanda at this time, headed Northbound.
FINALLY ROLF STUCK HIS HEAD OUT THE WINDOW AND SPOTTED THE HELICOPTER. FOLLOWING IT - HE HEADED NORTH - TOWARDS THE FREEWAY,
AT THIS POINT, ROLF FIGURED THE ROBBERS HAD A DECISION TO MAKE. THEY COULD TAKE THE FREEWAY BACK TOWARDS RIVERSIDE, WHERE MANY COPS AWAITED THEM. OR THEY COULD HEAD INTO LA
Rolf: I was hoping that they were going to go into Los Angeles where the sheriff's were, because I knew that they had a SWAT team. Those were new items at the time.
THE LAPD HAD CREATED THE FIRST SWAT TEAM IN THE COUNTRY, AROUND A DECADE EARLIER. THE GROUP OF SPECIALLY-TRAINED MEN, MANY WITH MILITARY EXPERIENCE, WAS ESTABLISHED AFTER THE WATTS RIOTS. A SERIES OF VIOLENT CONFRONTATIONS BETWEEN POLICE OFFICERS AND LOCAL BLACK RESIDENTS.
THE ROBBERS SURPRISED ROLF WHEN HE REALIZED THEY WEREN’T HEADED WEST TOWARDS LA OR EAST TO RIVERSIDE. AS THE ROBBERS MERGED ONTO INTERSTATE 15, HE SAW THEY WERE HEADED NORTH.
ROLF GOT ON THE RAMP ABOUT A HALF-MILE BEHIND THE YELLOW TRUCK.
Rolf: A s soon as we get on the 15, they start shooting at us again, they're hitting the vehicle.
ROLF AND THE OFFICER HE WAS RIDING WITH FRED CHISHOLM WHO WAS DRIVING, NEEDED TO BE CAREFUL. THE WEAPONS THE ROBBERS HAD WERE SO POWERFUL, THAT THEY COULDN’T GET TOO CLOSE.
Rolf: And I told Fred, you know, get behind this 18 wheeler. Maybe they won't shoot at a civilian vehicle.
Well, they shot at the civilian vehicle and the 18 wheeler pulls to the right.
It's like the curtain opened and there comes the gunshots you know, there’s just no relief.
SOME OFFICERS WOULD RECALL BEING ON THE FREEWAY AND HEARING THE SHOTS FALL AROUND THEIR VEHICLES, FROM ALMOST A MILE AWAY.
Radio Traffic: Keep your lights off ahead of 13, that’s the target, be advised. They were firing. I wouldn’t get too close. High powered rifle.
MORE LAW ENFORCEMENT JOINED THE CHASE ON THE FREEWAY - OFFICERS FROM ONTARIO, FONTANA, PERRIS. BUT NOBODY COULD GET TOO CLOSE TO THE YELLOW TRUCK WITHOUT HAVING TO DODGE BULLETS.
Radio Traffic: Keep your lights off, They’ve been firing from a half mile around hitting units. Copy that, we’ll run our lights until we see you then cut them.
Rolf: And it was somewhere around this time that my dispatch asks, can you confirm if a helicopter is being shot out of the sky? I go what? Are you kidding me?
GEORGE WOULD TELL POLICE THAT THEY FELT MAYBE THEY COULD GET AWAY, IF THEY COULD JUST STOP THE HELICOPTER FROM TRACKING THEM
Detective: Where was the helicopter all this time? George: Uh it was uh just watching us.
Detective: Okay. Is this about the same time you guys started shootin' at the helicopter?
George: Yeah. I just figured if we could stop the helicopter, get him away from us, we could get away. Cause we figured that was what was keepin' everybody else hangin' on us. And then we pot-shotted at - the roster, and uh the fuselage. The tail.
Music cue starts here
THE HELICOPTER, WHICH WAS HOVERING 800 FT OVER THE SUSPECTS, ABRUPTLY VEERED OFF. THE SUSPECTS, POINTING THEIR GUNS SKYWARD, HAD MANAGED TO FRACTURE THE PLEXIGLASS OF THE CHOPPER, AND THE TITANIUM FLOOR. IT WOULD BE FORCED TO LAND.
Rolf: Somebody in the back said, we got to notify Ontario that divert aircraft because, you know, there if they've shot a helicopter, you know, and we're coming into the glide path, they could shoot airliners as well.
THE POLICE WERE WORRIED THAT THE ROBBERS COULD SHOOT PLANES TAKING OFF FROM THE NEARBY ONTARIO AIRPORT. SO THEY SHUT IT DOWN.
IT SEEMED LIKE NO ONE COULD TOUCH THE ROBBERS. THEY HAD DRIVEN OFF A HELICOPTER AND WERE HOLDING OFF DOZENS OF CARS IN PURSUIT.
Rolf: The kinks can’t get any worse can they? Radio Traffic: They got explosives?
Rolf: Oh yes they can.
ROLF SAW A POP IN THE AIR - AS THE ROBBERS STARTED THROWING BOMBS OUT ON THE ROAD BEHIND THEM. GEORGE WOULD TELL POLICE, HE HAD CARRIED THEM IN HIS POCKET.
George: I had two in my pocket and those are the two I tried to slow down traffic with.
Detective: You only threw two?
George: I threw two.
Rolf: A nd I realize, you know, at this point there, I've mean, probably the biggest law enforcement chase there ever was. And I'm with the unit in front chasing these guys.
BUT THEN - ROLF’S RIDE GAVE OUT, FOR THE SECOND TIME THAT DAY.
Rolf: Our car has been hit so many times by the rifle fire that our engines started to steam. And you could see that, you know, steam rising up off off of the hood of the car. And the car was starting to buck. And it became obvious that we weren’t going to be able to lead the chase any further.
ROLF SAW THE SUSPECTS TAKE AN OFF RAMP. AND THAT’S WHEN HE REALIZED THEY WERE HEADED INTO THE SAN GABRIEL MOUNTAINS. TOWARDS LYTLE CREEK CANYON. ROLF KNEW THEN - IT WOULD TAKE SOMETHING VERY POWERFUL TO STOP THEM.
Rolf: I t's like we're the police. We don't have rifles. We have shotguns and handguns.
Rolf: W e were calling for anything that had a weapon, a rifle or something to, like, intercede.
IT TURNS OUT A YOUNG OFFICER, WOULD ANSWER THAT CALL. WE’LL BE RIGHT BACK.
AT THE TIME OF THE NORCO BANK ROBBERY, OFFICERS WEREN’T USUALLY ARMED BEYOND A HANDGUN AND A SHOTGUN. BUT THAT DA, BY A FLUKE, A NEARBY SHERIFF’S OFFICE DID HAVE AN AUTOMATIC WEAPON. IN SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, THEY HAD AN M16 IN THEIR EVIDENCE LOCKER.
DJ: We basically just kind of kept it, the department didn’t know we had it. We recovered it after a pursuit and the crooks threw it out the window. It got pretty narfed up. So we called the military and said, hey, we've got your weapon. Do you want it back? It's in pretty bad shape. And they said, no, you keep it.
DEPUTY SHERIFF DANIEL MCCARTY, WHO GOES BY DJ, WAS BACK AT THE SAN BERNARDINO STATION WHEN HE HEARD ABOUT THE BANK ROBBERY AND ONGOING PURSUIT.
DJ: In those days, that was a very, very big deal to have an AR. I mean, we didn't have weapons like that, military weapons.
A FELLOW OFFICER RADIOED INTO THE SAN BERNARDINO STATION
DJ: I'm coming to the office, get the AR out, which means the automatic weapon that we had.
DJ FETCHED IT AND WENT OUTSIDE - READY FOR HIS FELLOW OFFICER WHO SLID INTO THE PARKING LOT IN HIS PATROL CAR.
DJ: An he had reached over and unlatched the passenger door. And while he was still moving, the door flew open and I jumped to the car. I'm twenty three years old, brainless on what really happens in a shootout.
THE ONLY OFFICER IN THE CHASE ARMED WITH AN AUTOMATIC WEAPON WAS NOW MAKING HIS WAY TOWARDS THE SUSPECTS.
DJ, WAS IN HIS EARLY 20S WHEN HE DECIDED TO JOIN THE FORCE.
ASC: And when did you decide that you wanted to join the police?
DJ: ‘77 I started getting serious about doing it because I figured, you know, sooner or later I'm going to end up on one side of the bars. So I kind of like the other side.
ASC: Let's unpack that a little. Why did you think that you-
DJ: B ecause don't get me wrong. I had great parents. I was raised well, but I was a helian. The guys that I ran with, we had a gang. There was several fights between other gang members. And just growing up in general, while San Bernardino was growing up and unfortunately, turning to crime was starting to go downhill.
DJ ENDED UP BECOMING A DEPUTY SHERIFF FOR SAN BERNARDINO - THE COUNTY DIRECTLY NORTH OF RIVERSIDE. IT IS SURROUNDED BY DESERT MOUNTAINS - HOLLYWOOD USED IT AS A BACKDROP FOR 60’S WESTERN. IT’S A PLACE WHERE DJ FIT RIGHT IN
ASC: What did you look like during that time? DJ: G len Campbell.
ASC: OK, for those unfamiliar with Glen Campbell, describe him.
DJ: W ell, Glen Campbell was a country western singer. Rhinestone cowboy
DJ: Had that boyish look with the regular haircut parted on the side, I look like a little kid. A big little kid.
BUT BACK THEN DJ THOUGHT HE WAS A REAL TOUGH GUY.
DJ: I thought I looked like Dirty Harry, are you kidding? I was 23 years old and happy and having a great time.
DJ WAS ASSIGNED TO WORK IN FONTANA, A TOUGH CITY THAT WAS BUILT AROUND A STEEL MILL. WORKING THAT BEAT BROUGHT DJ THE SAME SENSE OF EXCITEMENT FROM HIS HELLION DAYS
DJ: Fontana never sleeps. It's a steel town. It's 24 hours trucking industry, 24 hours prostitution, drug sales, 24 hours. It never stopped.
BUT WORKING AS A POLICE OFFICER ALSO GAVE HIM A SENSE OF STABILITY
DJ: W hen I got hired, they said okay we’re going to pay you. I think it was six hundred dollars every two weeks. And I went, you're going to pay me six hundred dollars every two weeks. Yes. And I got to go start in the jail. Yeah. And you're going to feed me in the jail. Yeah. Antonia, I was in heaven.
DJ HAD TO BE DRAGGED AWAY FROM POLICE WORK
DJ: T here was times when there was several of us that were young and energetic, and they would literally the sergeant would literally have to tell us the 12 o'clock on your shift was over at one o'clock, bring the cars back. Graveyard's waiting to go to work.
DJ HAD BEEN RELUCTANTLY FINISHING UP A DAY TIME SHIFT AND CHANGING INTO HIS STREET CLOTHES AROUND 4PM WHEN HE HEARD THE RADIO TRAFFIC AND THEN JUMPED INTO HIS FELLOW OFFICER’S CAR.
Radio Traffic: 321 advise how many units you request from PD...[unintelligible] We need the highway blocked [request about 5 units]
THE FOUR SUSPECTS WERE ON THE HIGHWAY HEADED NORTHBOUND.
DJ HAD THE RIFLE BETWEEN HIS KNEES AS HE JOINED THE CHASE AT 80 MPH
DJ: I had it between my legs on the Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and I'm looking at it, trying to figure out how to work it.
DJ HAD NEVER TRAINED WITH HIGH POWERED RIFLES LIKE THIS. BUT GEORGE AND CHRIS SHOT WITH THEM FREQUENTLY. THEY WOULD TARGET PRACTICE IN A FORESTED CANYON CALLED LYTLE CREEK. WHICH IS WHERE THEY WERE LEADING THE POLICE THAT VERY MOMENT.
A DETECTIVE WOULD LATER ASK CHRIS HARVEN ABOUT WHY THEY DECIDED TO LEAD THE CHASE TO LYTLE CREEK CANYON
Chris: We thought over the dirt roads we could elude the police vehicles because they catch a lot of dust.
HE SAID THAT ON THE DIRT ROADS UP THE MOUNTAIN, THEY COULD ELUDE THE POLICE VEHICLES BECAUSE THEY’D BE CATCHING A LOT OF DUST
Chris: And we get up there, dump the vehicle and split up and try to make it as we could.
THAT THEY WANTED TO GET THERE, DUMP VEHICLE AND SPLIT UP TO MAKE IT AS THEY COULD.
Radio: If they follow the creek they’re going to go into a dead end.
THE ROBBERS WERE ALREADY AT LYTLE CREEK WHEN DJ REACHED THE HIGHWAY. HE GOT ON THE RADIO TRAFFIC.
DJ: We're trying to tell everybody and through dispatch to pull over that we had an AR and to let us get up to the front. We had a problem because you've got CHP, Riverside County Sheriff, San Bernadino county sheriff. And in those days, we weren't all on the same frequency.
AT THE TIME THERE WAS A RADIO SYSTEM THAT LET DIFFERENT AGENCIES COMMUNICATE WITH EACH OTHER BUT IT WAS ONLY INSTALLED IN A HANDFUL OF CARS. AND SO COMMUNICATING WAS LIKE A GAME OF TELEPHONE.
Radio: Can anyone on this frequency see the vehicle?
NEWS THAT A DEPUTY SHERIFF HAD AN AR SLOWLY PERCOLATED THROUGH THE
COP CAR PARADE HURTLING UP TOWARDS THE MOUNTAINS.
Radio Traffic: San Bernardino is trying to make their way up to the front. They have an automatic weapon.. .
DJ: He gets the message through and guys are starting to pull over and we were heading up to the front of the pack.
DJ AND THE M16 WERE GETTING CLOSER AND CLOSER TO THE ROBBERS.
DJ: We got into Lytle Creek, which goes down into a very windy two lane mountain road, and you drive up to the end of the little creek and it turns into dirt and the dirt ending there is a free
for all shooting area for anybody that's got a gun that wants to go and shoot it.
LYTLE CREEK CANYON IS IN THE MIDST OF THE SAN GABRIEL MOUNTAINS. A WILDERNESS AREA DOTTED WITH CLUSTERS OF PONDEROSA PINES AND TALL YUCCA PLANTS.
DJ: I don't know how any other way to explain this to you, that it's central casting for the Hills Have Eyes. It's just it's bad.
LYTLE CREEK CANYON WAS A GO TO SPOT FOR CRIMINAL ACTIVITY. THERE WAS A FORMAL GUN RANGE BUT MANY VISITORS WOULD IGNORE IT IN FAVOR OF PULLING UP ANYWHERE ON THE SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN TO BLAST THEIR LEGAL OR ILLEGAL WEAPON. STRAY BULLETS WERE KNOWN TO HIT CARS, HOMES OR EVEN TENTS SET UP BY UNASSUMING CAMPERS. THERE WERE HORRIBLE ACCIDENTS - PEOPLE DIED. IN THE LATE 1960S LYTLE CREEK BECAME A FAVORITE OF DRUG TRAFFICKERS WHO WOULD MOVE IN PERMANENTLY AND EITHER GROW MARIJUANA ON THE SIDE OF THE CANYON ITSELF OR COOK CRYSTAL METH IN BATHTUBS.
DJ: It’s an interesting little community up there.
BUT DJ HAD NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE HE SAW IN LYTLE CREEK, AS HE DROVE ON
THE WINDING DIRT PATH.
DJ: I mean we're passing cars that were shot up.
DESPERATE FOR STRONGER GUNS, OFFICERS WERE SEIZING THE SIDEARMS OF
CIVILIAN BYSTANDERS WHO HAD GONE TO LYTLE CREEK TO PRACTICE SHOOTING.
DJ:Wecommandeeredalimitededition22ithasmoreofalong range. I remember the deputies in front of me were actually pulling rifles away from citizens to take their guns because we didn't have anything that was good, they were taking their weapons so that we could fight with them.
AMID THE CHAOS - ABANDONED CARS, MULTIPLE FREQUENCIES, DIFFERENT AGENCIES - DJ AND HIS PARTNER WERE FOCUSED ON GETTING THE ONE AUTOMATIC WEAPON TO THE FRONT OF THE CHASE IN HOPES OF FINALLY STOPPING THE SUSPECTS.
AND AT ONE POINT HE THOUGHT THEY MADE IT.
DJ: And then all of a sudden this Riverside unit just cuts us off and goes in front of us, didn't know it at the time, but that was Jim Evans.
DEPUTY SHERIFF JAMES EVANS KNOWN AS JIM - WOULD SOON FACE OFF WITH THE ROBBERS AT THE TOP OF THE DESERT MOUNTAIN.
WE’LL BE RIGHT BACK.
PART 3 - LYTLE CREEK
IN 1975, FIVE YEARS BEFORE THE EVENTS OF THIS BANK ROBBERY, A YOUNG WOMAN NAMED MARY SWEENEY WAS GOING HORSEBACK RIDING WITH A FRIEND IN WOODCREST, CALIFORNIA. A TOWN HALF AN HOUR EAST OF NORCO.
Mary: I was into horses when I was young. I loved animals. I still do.
AFTER A COUPLE OF HOURS, THEY BROUGHT THEIR HORSES BACK TO THE STABLE. AT THE TIME, MARY WAS IN AN UNHAPPY MARRIAGE WITH A MAN WHO DRANK.
Mary: I didn't go directly home. I went to the friend's house that I was riding with. And we came off the ride and my husband was under the influence, OK, and came up there and started knocking me around because I didn't come right home. And so, you know, my girlfriend and her kids were screaming and yelling when they saw that. Well, and the bottom line went down to the hospital because he was choking me pretty badly, couldn't breathe.
ASC: Oh my god.
Mary: And so the doctor there said, has this happened before? I said, yeah, but nobody ever does anything. He said, well, you call the sheriff's department because you're out in the county. So we call the sheriff's department. And Jim Evans answered the call. That's how I met him.
JIM EVANS WAS A DEPUTY SHERIFF FOR RIVERSIDE COUNTY. An ARMY GREEN BERET AND VIETNAM VETERAN, HE WAS ORIGINALLY FROM TEXAS.
Mary: He was six foot. His hair was rather a light kind of sandy brown. He had a nice looking mustache at that Texas accent.
HE WAS A REAL COWBOY
Mary: He wore his cowboy hat.. And he wore cowboy boots. He always, off duty. He was in jeans and, you know, cowboy shirt.
MARY WOULD TAKE HER KIDS TO BACK EAST WHERE SHE GREW UP TO GET AWAY FROM HER ABUSIVE HUSBAND.
Mary: And while I was back there, my girlfriend, she'd stay in touch with me and all. She said, you know, that deputy, he came by a few times to see how you were doing. And I said, well, that was really nice of him. It was weird because, you know, he said, well, can I have her phone number? So he called me up. So I talked on the phone with him and all. And then he started writing letters to me and I started writing letters back to him. That connection was there. And we ended up getting married.
BACK IN CALIFORNIA THEY HAD A CHILD TOGETHER. MARY REMEMBERS FATHER AND SON THE MORNING OF THE ROBBERY.
Mary: He came in, picked up the baby, and he was a chunky baby, he was 10 pounds and I'm like, you know, I’m very small I’m 5’4 about 115 pounds. So he's bouncing the baby on his knee, you know. And so he said to me, you know, Mary some men, never get to see their sons grow up. And I said is there something going to
happen? He goes, I don't know, it's just a feeling.
AFTER LEARNING OF THE ROBBERY, JIM EVANS, WHO WAS THE KIND OF EXPERIENCED OFFICER WHO RUSHED TO ANY CRIME SCENE, HAD MUSCLED HIS WAY TO THE THE FRONT OF THE CHASE. HIS CAR HUGGING THE SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN AS HE WOUND HIS WAY ON THE NARROW JAGGED PATH IN LYTLE CREEK.
Radio: I think Evans is the closest one.
JIM TRIED TO KEEP SOME DISTANCE FROM THE YELLOW TRUCK BECAUSE THE SUSPECTS WERE CONTINUING TO SHOOT LIKE CRAZY BEHIND THEM AS THEY SPED FORWARD.
Radio: A re they stationery at that point? Evans: that’s a negative. They’re moving, they’re firing like crazy.
A HELICOPTER HOVERED ABOVE - RADIOING DOWN THE LOCATION AS BEST HE COULD TO THE CARS IN PURSUIT.
RADIO: Ok he’s still moving Northbound according to chopper.
Radio: Evans you ok? EVANS: Yeah I’m ok. We’re still following.
BECAUSE OF ALL THE CURVES, THE SUSPECTS WERE IN AND OUT OF SIGHT FOR JIM EVANS. HE FEARED HE WOULD ROUND A CORNER AND FIND THEM READY TO AMBUSH HIM. HE ASKED THE DISPATCHER TO JUST LET HIM KNOW IF THE SUSPECTS SUDDENLY STOPPED.
Radio: T ell me if they stopped that’s what we want to know. Ok. GEORGE WOULD LATER TELL THE DETECTIVE THAT THEIR GOAL WAS SIMPLY TO
ESCAPE AND STOP THE POLICE FROM FOLLOWING THEM
George: We're in Lytle Creek and - and uh what we're tryin' to do is hit the engines on the police vehicles to stop 'em.
Detective: Uh huh.
George: To stop police vehicle. I wasn't tryin' to kill. THE ROBBERS WOULD DRIVE UNTIL THE DIRT ROAD IN FRONT OF THEM WAS
WASHED OUT. THEY COULDN’T DRIVE ANY FURTHER.
Detective: You went around the corner I take it. George: We kept driving until we came to the dead-end.
THEY ABANDONED THE YELLOW TRUCK. JIM WAS IN THE POLICE CAR THAT WAS CLOSEST BEHIND THEM.
AND DJ MCCARTY - WITH THE AR BETWEEN HIS KNEES - WAS BEHIND HIM. BUT JIM AND DJ COULDN’T COMMUNICATE BECAUSE THEY WERE ON DIFFERENT FREQUENCIES.
DJ: All of a sudden, Jim's car, Deputy Evans’ car stops dead in front of us and we stop for a second and we're looking and we're going, what is he doing? I can't really see what's going on in front of Evans because the bend in the road.
JIM CALLED INTO THE DISPATCH.
RADIO: W e’re taking rounds
DJ REALIZES THAT AROUND THE CORNER, THE SUSPECTS HAVE STOPPED THEIR
VEHICLE, AND ARE NOW SHOOTING TOWARDS JIM EVANS.
DJ: I look back up at Evans and I see him jump out of the driver’s side. He goes behind his unit, drops to the ground, and I remember he dropped down on one knee.
JIM QUICKLY RELOADED HIS GUN.
DJ: He dumped his dead rounds out, And I remember thinking, damn, he's good. Because he did it, just one, two, three, reloaded his gun. And then I looked up and I saw one of them take a position on the side of the hill, point his rifle right where he went down.
DJ LOOKED AT JIM CROUCHED BEHIND THE CAR AND THOUGHT “ JUST DON’T POP UP .”
DJ: And it was split seconds. All I could think is don't get up. And he got up and he took around in the right eye, which basically killed him instantly.
Radio: Evans you there? Evans who’s in the truck? Jim talk. DJ COULD BARELY PROCESS WHAT HE HAD JUST WITNESSED
DJ: My world blew up. There was brain matter, blood, glass, parts of his lights on the top of his car, everything. And it's in a valley where these weapons are echoing. And it was just pure terror.
And I just saw that Evans went down and then they saw me sitting there. They just plastered my car, every time I move my arm or whatever did anything a bullet went by and I got shrapnel in my face and a bullet that bounced off my dashboard and into my right elbow.
DJ’S FIRST IMPULSE WAS TO DIVE UNDERNEATH HIS CAR
DJ: I stuffed a two hundred pounds, six foot two body under, about five inches of a Fairmont patrol car. Which is getting turned into Swiss cheese.
HE TOOK A DEEP BREATH AND TRIED TO KEEP IT TOGETHER. HE REALIZED THAT IN HIS MOMENT OF PANIC, HE HAD LEFT THE ARIN THE CAR SEAT. AND SO HE BLINDLY STUCK HIS HAND UP.
DJ: I reached up and started feeling around in the car and I just grabbed the barrel of the AR that was laying on the front seat. I thought to myself, okay, just get this thing working and get over the door. Scream all words your mother told you never to use and start shooting. I stand up over
the open door and I just get a visual of four men in front of me. And I just started shooting. And thank God they turned around and ran.
THE ROBBERS DITCHED THE YELLOW TRUCK AND SET OFF ON FOOT INTO THE WILDERNESS OF LYTLE CREEK. THE SUN WAS BEGINNING TO GO DOWN
MONTHS EARLIER, JIM EVANS AND HIS WIFE MARY HAD GONE TO A FUNERAL
Mary: We were up at that cemetery. He said, I want you to know this is where I want to be buried. If I go in a shoot out, that's exactly what he said to me, he said, then bury me in my police uniform. But if I die normally, bury me in my military uniform. I said, why are you telling me these things? And he said, because I just want you to know. And he said, if anything ever happens. Make sure you always take my son to Texas. I said, I'll do that. And so.
ASC: Oh Mary, I’m so sorry.
Mary: That's OK. And so I said, I'll do that, Jim, I'll do that.
ACCORDING TO MARY, BEFORE JIM DIED, HE HAD GROWING CONCERNS ABOUT ABOUT OFFICER SAFETY.
Mary: Because of the duty that he did in Vietnam and and Green Berets, he knew a lot about guns and everything else. And uh he sent many memos to the sheriff that last year before he died.
He told them we need military assault rifles. It was almost like he could see it coming and he'd tell me something big is going to happen.
NEXT TIME ON NORCO ‘80.
DJ: When people are trying to kill you, when they've shot eight cops, civilians robbed a bank and they're shooting at you. Yeah, I want to kill them. I don't want to, I don't want to capture them.
AN ANGRY POLICE FORCE REACTS.
AND ONE MORE PERSON WOULDN’T MAKE IT OFF THE MOUNTAINSIDE ALIVE.
Officer: A s we searched the area and the helicopter, we spotted yellow gloves. And shortly thereafter, the suspect was down.
Norco 80 is written and produced by me, Antonia Cereijido and by Sophia Paliza Carre. The show is a production of LAist Studios in collaboration with Futuro Studios.
Leo G is the executive producer for LAist Studios. Marlon Bishop is the executive producer for Futuro Studios.
Audrey Quinn our editor
Joaquin Cotler is our Associate Producer. Juan Diego Ramirez is our Production Assistant.
Marialexa Kavanaugh is our intern.
Fact checking by Amy Tardif.
Engineering by Stephanie Lebow and Julia Caruso.
Original music by Zach Robinson.
This podcast is based on the book Norco '80 by Peter Houlahan
Special Thanks to Bill Crowe and to Paul Benoit
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The marketing team of LAist Studios created our branding.
Thanks to the team at LAist Studios, including: Kristen Hayford, Taylor Coffman, Kristen Muller, and Leo G.
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