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Shooting Follows Pizza Store Holdup in Sun Valley : Policeman Wounds Suspected Robber of 19 Businesses

Times Staff Writer

A man suspected in 19 armed robberies of small businesses was shot in a Sun Valley billiards hall by a police officer who thought he was reaching for a gun, Los Angeles police said Tuesday.

Antonio Vasquez, 27, of North Hollywood was shot in a buttock after he had been chased into Rosita’s Billiards in the 8200 block of San Fernando Road on Monday, Lt. William Hall said.

After a short standoff with a patrol officer, Vasquez turned away and appeared to be reaching into his coat pocket for a gun, Hall said, before the officer fired. Police found no weapon on Vasquez after the shooting, Hall said.

Vasquez, who was arrested on suspicion of robbery, was in stable condition Tuesday in the jail ward of the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, officials said.

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Hall said the incident followed the 1 p.m. robbery of a Domino’s pizza store in the 8100 block of Sunland Boulevard. A man who said he had a gun in his pocket took $450, police said.

Police said they learned that the robber, who had escaped on foot, matched the description of a man believed responsible for 18 other robberies of small businesses in the area since Oct. 17.

Several North Hollywood Division patrol officers and members of the department’s COBRA Corps, which targets repeat offenders, began patrolling the area, searching for the suspect.

About 3 p.m., Sgt. Paul Mattson, head of the COBRA unit, spotted a man matching the description of the robber walking with a woman in an alley behind businesses on San Fernando Road, Hall said. Mattson, 53, ordered them to stop, but both ran, Hall said.

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The man, later identified as Vasquez, ran toward the back of a bar. At the door, he turned and appeared to reach toward his waistband for a weapon, Hall said. Mattson fired one shot at Vasquez but missed, Hall said. After Vasquez fled, Mattson then attempted to capture the woman, but she escaped, Hall said.

Officer Victor Klotz, 32, a North Hollywood Division patrol officer who had been called to back up Mattson, followed Vasquez through the bar, out the front door, across San Fernando Road and into the billiards hall, police said.

Klotz spotted the suspect hiding in the back near a bathroom.

Hall said Klotz ordered Vasquez to raise his hands and surrender, but Vasquez began walking toward the officer with his hands in the pockets of his jacket.

“Vasquez suddenly bent at the waist and made a turning motion,” Hall said.

Klotz, believing that the suspect was arming himself, fired his gun once, striking Vasquez, Hall said.

Hall said police later found a nearby motel room where Vasquez had been staying and located evidence from the Domino’s robbery. He said it also appeared from evidence in the room that Vasquez had returned to the motel after the robbery and ordered a pizza delivered from the same Domino’s that had been robbed. He allegedly paid for it with some of the stolen money, Hall said.

An investigation of the shooting and of Vasquez’s connection to the other robberies is continuing, Hall said.

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