A federal drug agent was killed and two other agents wounded Friday when the targets of an undercover heroin investigation tried to rob the agents and a posh Pasadena neighborhood exploded into gunfire.
One of the wounded agents was declared brain dead with his vital functions being sustained on life-support systems Friday night, a Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman confirmed.
Two of the suspects were fatally shot and a third wounded minutes later after backup officers launched a mile-long chase along winding, tree-lined streets that came to an abrupt end in San Marino when a red compact car carrying all three suspects careened onto a sidewalk.
3 Others Arrested
Three other suspects, who fled in a second vehicle, were arrested without incident in Monterey Park a short time later.
The dead agent was identified as Special Agent George M. Montoya, 34, who joined the DEA as a criminal investigator in September after eight years as a Border Patrol agent and investigator for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
DEA agent Paul Seema, 52, who had been with the agency since the mid-1970s, was identified as the agent who was declared brain dead and on life support.
Also wounded in the gunfire was Special Agent Jose F. Martinez, 25, listed in stable condition with a gunshot wound in the leg.
"In the wake of yet another in an ever-increasing series of violent incidents in drug enforcement, I speak for law enforcement and their families everywhere in expressing our deepest shock and sadness over this tragedy," DEA Administrator John C. Lawn said in a prepared statement from Washington.
"Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of our agents. I can pledge on behalf of all DEA employees that their bravery under fire will not have been in vain."
Capt. Jim Strait of the Monterey Park Police Department said the three agents, conducting a joint undercover investigation with the Monterey Park Police Department into a Thai heroin distribution ring, met six suspects at a Tiny Naylor's restaurant in Monterey Park about noon, purportedly to arrange the purchase of two pounds of heroin.
One of the suspects got into the DEA agents' car, while the other four drove off in the red compact car and the black vehicle that eventually was stopped in Monterey Park.
The agents, with the suspect in tow, then drove to the 1400 block of Marengo Avenue in Pasadena.
At some point, Strait said, "it became apparent it was a rip-off," with the suspects apparently trying to rob the agents of the $90,000 they had brought to buy the heroin.
Gunfire Breaks Out
What happened next is not clear, but gunfire broke out, leaving the three agents wounded.
"It was all planned," one law enforcement official, who asked not to be identified, told The Times.
The suspected traffickers apparently planned to take the agents' money from the beginning, the official said. "The plan was to rob somebody; whether they knew they were agents or not, I don't know. It was a dope rip-off."
Two of the agents, he said, were shot point blank in the head. The third was shot in the leg.
"From what we can determine, it was an obvious rip-off. We found no drugs at all," said John Zienter, special agent in charge of the DEA in Los Angeles, looking visibly shaken at a press conference announcing the shootings.
Fled Toward San Marino
The suspects then sped off toward San Marino, with police officers and federal agents in hot pursuit. The chase came to an abrupt halt a little more than a mile away, when the suspects' car ran up onto the sidewalk and a pursuing car slammed into it.
"All of the officers jumped from their cars and started shooting," said Elizabeth Kennedy, a Pasadena resident who recounted a description given by another witness of the gunfire.
Authorities said one suspect was shot to death in the street, and the other was killed sitting in the passenger side of the car. The third was wounded while in the back seat of the car, police said.
When Kennedy got out of her own car, a suspect's body was dangling from the smashed sports car and another lay in the middle of the street. Two of the officers were hugging each other, she said. "They looked pretty shaken."
Sydney Jones, who lives near the crash site on Monterey Road, said she returned home only moments after the shooting occurred and found law enforcement officers everywhere.
'My Partner Was Hit'
"A couple looked like they were trying to hold back tears," she said. "I remember one saying, 'My partner was hit' as he walked away."
One of the residents near the crash site, Fran Hatch, said a DEA agent at the scene happened to be a family friend.
Hatch's son, Steve, said one of the agent's family members had telephoned and assured the Hatches that he had not been hurt. "(They) called to say he was OK and that he shot three of the suspects and they're in bad shape or they're dead," he said.
As Steve talked, Fran Hatch began to cry. "I can't believe it was him. The first thing I thought when I heard it was drugs and the DEA was, 'God, I hope it isn't our friend.' He lives a few blocks from the crash site. I think it's an incredible coincidence."
The incident shattered the sunny, midday quiet of the San Marino neighborhood, an area of tree-lined streets, wide lawns and spacious homes.
"Everyone was standing around in shock and saying this is too close to home," Anne Edmondson, who lives a block from the scene, told United Press International. "Our little ivory tower of San Marino is no longer inviolate. Nobody's safe."
Friday's crash and shootings presented one of the more incongruous sights in the city's history. As the sun set, a crowd of 40 to 50 people--businessmen in suits on their way home from work and students on their way home from school--clustered near the shooting site, peering at the blood-stained face of an Asian man who lay dead near the crunched car.
On the Pasadena street where the DEA agents were shot, law enforcement officials went into the nearby home of Charles Baskerville to phone for assistance just moments after the incident.
"It's been kind of a wild day," said Baskerville, a longtime resident of the quiet street in the exclusive Oak Knoll section, about two blocks south of Blair High School.
Times staff writers Bob Baker, Ashley Dunn, David Freed, Jeff Miller, William Overend, Ted Rohrlich, Jill Stewart and Boris Yaro contributed to this story.