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Mailman Slain in Fight With Bank Robber

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A 47-year-old off-duty postal worker was shot and fatally wounded Friday when he scuffled with a gunman during the robbery of a Union Bank branch in Lakewood, authorities said.

Richard Rice of Rialto, a Lakewood Post Office employee for nearly 18 years, was shot in the left side as he fought with a thin man who had robbed a teller and waiting customer, investigators said. Rice died at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.

After the shooting, the gunman ran out of the bank at 5910 E. South St. to a waiting car--driven by a second man--and escaped. The amount of money taken was not disclosed. Union Bank declined to discuss the holdup.

There were few customers in the bank when the robbery occurred and no one else was hurt.

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Rice had worked an early shift and was in his Postal Service uniform as he waited in line at the bank shortly after 10 a.m.

The sheriff’s information bureau said the gunman waited in line, took money from the teller and robbed a customer. The assailant was leaving the bank when he “got into a fight” with Rice, a sheriff’s spokesman said. It was not known what prompted Rice to struggle with the gunman.

Deputies described the stubble-bearded robber as black, about 25 to 30 years old, 5 feet, 10 inches tall and wearing a short black jacket and black pants. The driver of the car was black, with a medium complexion and was wearing a tan shirt and black pants.

They escaped in a full-size American-made car, either gold or copper-colored with a lighter top, according to witnesses.

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Sheriff’s Sgt. Robert Stoneman said the gunman is also a suspect in two robberies of the Bellflower branch of Sanwa Bank. He said a surveillance camera at the bank photographed the man during holdups at the bank June 4 and Feb. 1.

After Friday’s holdup, Buddy Greco, 62, who was sitting at a sandwich shop across the street, said he saw a man, believed to be the gunman, pick up money from the robbery that apparently had been dropped, hop in a car and drive away.

Next-door to the bank, employees of a flower shop said they learned of the robbery when a woman rushed into the store and asked to use the phone to report seeing a postal worker in a fight.

Post Office officials declined to disclose any information about Rice’s family.

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