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Customer, Fleeing Bank Robber Exchange Gunfire

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A midday bank robbery turned into a shootout Friday when a customer pulled an unregistered derringer and exchanged fire with the fleeing robber, authorities said.

The robber escaped with an undetermined amount of money, while the customer--a 45-year-old construction worker who sustained a minor facial cut from flying glass--was taken into custody on weapons charges.

Daniel Phillip Seelinger, of Laguna Niguel, was cited and released Friday on misdemeanor charges of carrying a concealed weapon, discharging a weapon and delaying an investigation, authorities said.

Police said a man entered the Hawthorne Savings branch in the 24400 block of Alicia Parkway at 11:22 a.m., displayed a handgun and demanded money.

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After he left the building through the front door, the customer emptied his two-shot pistol through the glass door at the suspect, sheriff’s Lt. Dan Martini said.

The robber turned, fired two shots into the bank and fled north on the Santa Ana Freeway in a late model, green compact car.

Witnesses said that police were at the scene within four minutes.

Kerry Clark was with a client at the nearby Village Gallery when the shots sent her scrambling.

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“I remember saying, ‘I guess we live a sheltered life (in) Mission Viejo.”

Sheriff’s Sgt. Al Coutts said the shootout was “kind of an unusual situation.”

Coutts said he advises people against confronting bank robbers.

“I’d much rather have a good witness give a good description of a car or license plate or clothing rather than jeopardize your safety or anybody else in that parking lot or inside that bank,” he said.

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FBI Special Agent David Struck in Santa Ana agreed.

“We don’t recommend confronting any armed suspect by anyone, even trained law enforcement,” Struck said. “At best, it is hazardous and at worst, deadly. . . . We especially do not want any untrained individual confronting an armed bank robber. If an individual is armed, the potential for injury or death is quite high.”

Struck said that the gunman who held up the bank “is not a repeat robber, although that possibility always exists.”

Struck said the FBI plans to examine the bank’s surveillance tape.

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The Mission Viejo robbery comes two days after a suspected bank robber died in a confrontation with police in Costa Mesa.

Times correspondent Jeff Bean contributed to the report.


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