A gun battle between two robbers and two guards at a Beverly Hills bank Friday left one of the assailants dead and dozens of customers and employees running for safety.
At least 16 shots were fired, but no one else was wounded during the holdup attempt at the Washington Mutual Bank branch at Wilshire and La Cienega boulevards, witnesses said.
“It was chaos,” said Jeff Knight, a security guard who was working in another part of the building. “People didn’t know where the shots were coming from, because the shots were echoing. Some of them were running toward the bullets.”
Police closed both major thoroughfares at the busy intersection, jamming Friday evening rush-hour traffic throughout the area.
A man who works in the bank and asked not to be identified said he saw the men, both armed, enter shortly before 5 p.m.
“They walked up to two tellers and said, ‘Give us all your money,’ ” he recalled. The robbers, who grabbed cash from several tellers, were confronted by two plainclothes guards as they started to leave the bank.
Both guards exchanged gunfire with one of the assailants, who fired five times, said Beverly Hills Police Lt. Gary Gilmond. That robber was killed and the other escaped, apparently without money, the lieutenant said.
Gilmond said the escapee wore a long, straight black wig and glasses as a disguise.
The man killed was not in disguise. A dye pack tucked into the bag of money he held exploded.
Sources close to the investigation said the two men may have been involved in as many as eight bank robberies in the area in the last month.
Knight and other occupants of the building said there have been three other attempted robberies at the Washington Mutual branch in the last three months
Police said they received their first call, that shots were being fired, about 5 p.m. The first officer arrived about a minute later as 20 to 30 people were fleeing.
“People were streaming out, saying a bank robbery had occurred,” Gilmond said. “The motorcycle officer confirmed that a robbery had occurred and made sure everyone was OK.”
The identities of the guards involved in the shootout were not released.
Police said they did not know how much money was taken before the shooting began.
The dead man was described only as in his early 30s. Police said the man who escaped is African American, 20 to 25 years old, about 6 feet tall and about 185 pounds. He wore gray sweat pants and a gray sweatshirt.
Beverly Hills police were joined by FBI agents and Los Angeles police officers as the search for the escapee continued into the night.
The hunt proceeded, office by office, through the Flynt building, which houses the headquarters of Hustler magazine. Officers cordoned off several blocks around the building.
Police ushered witnesses who hadn’t fled the bank to the nearby Wilshire Theatre, where a performance of “Forever Tango” was delayed for hours while police interviewed people.
Ticket holders, dancers and musicians waited outside, although most of the would-be audience eventually left.
Some theatergoers arriving hours late for the show because of the cordoned-off streets demanded refunds.
Jeff Loeb, the theater’s director of operations, said patrons who missed the show could use their tickets for one of the three remaining performances
About 8:30, a theater employee emerged and announced to applause, “There will be a show tonight!”
Times staff writers Zeke Minaya, Hector Becerra, Eric Malnic and Kishan Putta contributed to this report.