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LAKE FOREST : Robber, Hit in Shootout, Flees Store

A midday shootout between an armed robber and a jewelry store owner Monday left the robber wounded and the owner shaken. The robber escaped.

“I didn’t think twice,” said the owner, a Tustin man in his late 20s who asked not to be identified. “It was either him or me. There were a lot of people in here that could have been hurt.”

Witnesses told police that just before noon the would-be robber, a man in his mid-20s wearing a mustard-colored suit, set off the metal detector at the entrance of the 14K Jewelry Mart, in the Saddleback Plaza Shopping Center on El Toro Road.

Asking the owner if he had a gun, the man reached into his waistband and pulled a 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun.

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The owner raced to his office and grabbed his .44-caliber revolver. Over the last 15 years, he said, the store had been hit by armed robbers four or five times.

“This guy pulled a gun and--bang, bang, bang,” the owner said.

Inside the store at the time of the shootout, the owner said, were four customers and five employees.

“They all hit the ground, hugging the showcases,” he said. “They were shaking like a leaf.”

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The robber missed, but the owner did not. The owner said he believed he hit the robber at least once, with a shot that passed through the man’s body and shattered a showcase. The bullet caused the robber to drop his gun and sent glass shards flying throughout the shop.

“He spun around, he went down, and I don’t know what happened after that,” the owner said. “Witnesses said he crawled out or ran.”

At the time of the shooting, which involved about six rounds over a five- to six-second period, three other men, who police believe were the robber’s accomplices, were walking toward the jewelry store.

“When they heard the shots, they made a U-turn,” and ran back toward their two-tone, gray Chevrolet Astro van, the owner said.

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“I still can’t believe this really happened,” the owner said. “It’s really weird. I don’t know how to feel . . . numb.”

Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. Dan Martini said “it’s almost incredible to think that no one was injured” in the shootout.

Deputies later found the van abandoned on a nearby residential street with what looked like blood on the passenger seat. It had been reported stolen in Mission Viejo in the past few days.

Martini said some witnesses said it looked like the robber had been hit in the shoulder.

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