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4-Hour Siege Fails to Turn Up Theft Suspect but a Phone Call Does

Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles police laid siege for four hours at an Echo Park drugstore Thursday--only to find when they finally entered after dark that there was no sign of a supposed holdup man believed to have been holding five people hostage.

What heavily armed Special Weapons and Tactics team officers discovered were the owner’s wife, a clerk and two customers hiding in a storage room.

Later, a suspect was taken into custody at a home in the area.

Police said the incident began shortly before 3 p.m., when a woman employee at Taylor’s Pharmacy, 1700 W. Temple St., ran outside to report that the man who had robbed the place of narcotics two days earlier was paying a return visit.

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8 People Rescued

The SWAT team responded, eventually rescuing eight people who did not dare walk down the stairs from a physical rehabilitation center on the second floor, because the stairs went right past the drugstore doorway.

The Glendale Boulevard off-ramp of the Hollywood Freeway and streets for blocks around the pharmacy were closed to traffic.

Hundreds of spectators gathered.

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While marksmen trained rifles on the store, police negotiators tried to make contact by telephone, but someone kept hanging up on them.

It turned out that one of the people hiding in the storage room was simply trying to plug in a portable phone and did not have much luck.

At last, owner Shelton Lee, 45, wearied of the bathroom in which he had taken refuge, emerged at about 7 p.m.

Then the officers went in.

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“No suspect at the location,” Capt. Ron Banks reported. “Apparently before we were able to secure the building, the suspect left.”

Late Thursday, police booked James J. Drake, 40, for investigation of robbery in the incident.

Received Call From Neighbor

Officers said they were called to Drake’s home on Kensington Road in Echo Park by a neighbor. Drake’s mother had sought help from the neighbor after her son began acting irrationally, police said.

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“He was sweating and talking excitedly--symptoms of recent drug use,” Detective Bill Pavelic said. “We called him from next door and talked him into surrendering.”

Drake was taken to Queen of Angels Hospital for treatment of a possible drug overdose. The victims were taken to the hospital and they were able to identify Drake, officers said.

Detectives said it appeared that the man who entered the pharmacy Thursday afternoon had stolen some drugs.

Times staff writer Nieson Himmel contributed to this article.

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