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Mary A. Castillo Jessica Sancho had been...

Mary A. Castillo

Jessica Sancho had been driving home from work on South Coast

Highway, never expecting that she was about to drive right into the

thick of gun fire.

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“I could feel the bullets hit my car,” she said, her voice still

shaking. She slammed on the brakes as an officer ran across the

highway, then ducked down, praying the bullets wouldn’t penetrate the

side of her car.

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At that moment, she had no idea that she had ended up in the

middle of a shootout between Laguna Beach Police officers and a

robbery suspect.

The dramatic early-afternoon gun battle began at about 2 p.m.

Wednesday when police received a robbery-in-progress call from the

1000 block of South Coast Highway. A man reportedly entered The Herb

Import Co. and demanded that one of the clerks hand over cash and

other items.

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By the time the shootout ended, a police officer and store clerk

were shot and the suspect was fatally wounded.

“At some point, the suspect placed the victim on the ground,

handcuffed him and shot him in the back,” said Sgt. George Ramos of

the Laguna Police Department.

The wounded employee, identified as Jacques Negian, 28, made his

way into a neighboring real estate office, where staff called 911.

Officer Lawrence Bammer, 24, was one of the first to arrive on the

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scene. As he approached the store, the suspect walked out and opened

fire, Ramos said.

“He just started shooting at the cops,” Sancho said. “He had no

fear.”

The suspect ran to a nearby auto body shop, where he took cover

between an RV and a red Jeep Cherokee. Witnesses said that officers

shouted for him to come out with his hands up.

Instead he fired. He then fell to the ground after an unidentified

officer got a clean shot at him, Ramos said.

Roger von Butow, who had just returned home from the auto body

shop, ran back when he heard shots.

“They sounded like small weapons fire, perhaps 9-mm or 10-mm

pistols,” he said.

Greg Hanson, who watched the shooting from his second floor

apartment, heard between 20 and 25 shots.

“Within seconds after the shooting stopped I heard the cops

yelling ‘officer down, officer down,’” Hanson said.

With guns still drawn, officers moved in on the suspect and then

dragged him out from under the RV. Hanson said that they turned him

onto his stomach and handcuffed him before checking his pulse. Fire

personnel and paramedics immediately began CPR.

Hanson watched an officer unload a handgun and remove several

boxes of ammunition from the suspect’s black backpack. Police could

not confirm if the revolver had been the suspect’s primary or

secondary weapon.

“He had a swarthy complexion, short brown hair, approximately 5

feet 8-inches tall, 175 to 180 pounds, looked about 25 to 30 years

old,” von Butow said. Ramos confirmed that the unidentified suspect

was initially transported to South Coast Medical Center, where he

went into full arrest. Emergency staff revived him and he was then

airlifted to Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center where he was

pronounced dead between 7 and 7:30 p.m.

“The coroner will determine his identity,” Ramos said. “If he has

a criminal record it will be a shorter time.”

The suspect was scheduled for an autopsy early Thursday morning.

Bammer was shot on his left side, Ramos said. He was transported

to Mission Hospital where doctors determined that the bullet pushed

his vest into him, creating a puncture wound.

A Laguna Beach High School graduate, Bammer has been an officer

with the department since December 2000. From 1994 to 1997 he was an

explorer scout. He joined the Orange Police Department in 1999 before

he was hired full-time in Laguna.

“People still think of Larry as an explorer,” Lt. Mike Hall said.

“It was shocking. You don’t have police shootings in Laguna.”

Bammer apparently wanted to make sure hospital staff knew he had

graduated from his student days.

“I’m not an explorer, I’m a cop,” he reportedly told staff

members.

He was scheduled to be released from the hospital Thursday.

Department officials did not say when he would return to duty.

The last time a Laguna officer was shot in the line of duty was

Feb. 13, 1953, when Gordan French was fatally wounded by a prisoner.

French bled to death on the way to Hoag Hospital, which galvanized

the community to build South Coast Medical Center, according to Chief

James Spreine.

Negian was transported to Mission Hospital. An employee who spoke

on the condition of anonymity said that he was going to be OK.

Traffic was reportedly jammed on Coast Highway as far as Emerald

Bay to the north and Dana Point to the south. Orange County district

attorney’s office investigators and Orange County Sheriff’s forensic

personnel were on the scene.

The road was reopened at about 12:30 a.m. Thursday.

* MARY A. CASTILLO is a news assistant for the Coastline Pilot.

She covers education, public safety and City Hall. She can be reached

at mary.castillo@latimes.com.


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