Norco shootout

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Norco shootout
LocationNorco, California, United States
DateMay 9, 1980
3:40 p.m. (UTC-7)
TargetA branch of Security Pacific Bank
Attack type
Bank robbery, ambush shootout
WeaponsColt AR-15 5.56x45 rifle
G3 7.62x51 semi-automatic rifle
HK 93 semi-automatic rifles
Pump-action shotguns
Deaths3 (including 2 perpetrators)
Non-fatal injuries
PerpetratorsBelisaro Delgado (killed)
Manuel Delgado (killed)
Christopher Gregory Harven
Russell Harven
George Wayne Smith[1]

The Norco shootout was an armed confrontation between five heavily armed bank robbers and deputies of the Riverside County and San Bernardino County sheriffs' departments in Norco, California, on May 9, 1980. Two of the five perpetrators and one sheriff's deputy were killed, eight other law enforcement officers, one citizen and two other perpetrators were wounded, and massive amounts of gunfire damaged at least 30 police cars, a police helicopter, and numerous nearby homes and businesses.

At approximately 3:40 p.m., five men armed with shotguns, a G3 rifle, HK93s, handguns, AR-15s, a katana and an improvised explosive device robbed the Norco branch of Security Pacific Bank. Deputies of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department responding to the bank robbery call confronted the perpetrators outside the bank and a shootout ensued, killing one perpetrator. The perpetrators then stole a vehicle in the bank parking lot and fled the scene, leading police on a 25-mile (40 km) car chase into neighbouring San Bernardino County. Riverside County deputies were joined in the pursuit by officers of other area law enforcement agencies, including the California Highway Patrol and San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. The perpetrators then ambushed the pursuing deputies and engaged them in another shootout in unincorporated San Bernardino County near Lytle Creek before escaping into a wooded area in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Two days later, three of the four surviving perpetrators were arrested in the area of the ambush; the fourth killed himself before he could be captured by police. The three who were arrested were convicted of 46 felonies and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The robbery and pursuit[edit | edit source]

At 3:40 p.m. on May 9, 1980, four robbers stormed into the bank and forced the tellers to hand over $20,000 in cash, while the fifth robber kept watch outside. Unknown to the robbers, an employee at a different bank across the street spotted them entering the bank and called the police.

Riverside County Sheriff Deputy Glyn Bolasky was the first officer to arrive at the scene. As he pulled up, one of the robbers left outside with their getaway van radioed his partners inside the bank and said "We've been spotted! Let's go! Let's go!" The robbers exited the bank and began to fire on Bolasky's police cruiser, blowing out the windshield and forcing Bolasky to throw the vehicle into reverse, crashing into another car in the street. Taking cover behind his vehicle, Bolasky returned fire at the gunmen. The gunmen got into the van and once all five men were inside, they attempted to flee the scene, continuing to shoot at Bolasky. As the van sped away, a pellet from Bolasky's shotgun struck the driver, Belisario Delgado, just behind his right ear, killing him and sending the van crashing into a telephone pole guy-wire. The four remaining robbers then exited the vehicle and fired over 200 rounds at Bolasky, putting 47 bullet holes in his cruiser. Bolasky was hit five times; in the face, upper left shoulder, both forearms and the left elbow.[2]

By this time, Deputies Charles Hille and Andy Delgado (no relation to brothers Belisario and Manuel) had arrived at the scene. While Delgado engaged the robbers with gunfire, Hille managed to evacuate Bolasky in his cruiser and transport him to a nearby hospital. The robbers continued to fire at other officers arriving at the scene, and attempted to escape again by commandeering a truck (the truck was owned by Michael C. Linville) stopped at the intersection in front of the bank. As the four led a police pursuit, they shot at the pursuing officers and threw homemade bombs out of the back of the truck. Overall, they damaged 33 police vehicles, including a police helicopter piloted by Lt. John Gibson and observed by Sgt. Harold Hittle, which was forced to land.

The suspects pulled far ahead of the pursuing police officers and stopped to ambush them as they caught up. Deputy James Evans, one of the first units to come under attack during the ambush, was shot in the head and killed. The police, armed with only .38-Special revolvers and 12-gauge shotguns, were woefully outgunned. They were soon joined by San Bernardino County Sheriff's Deputy D. J. McCarty, who brought an M16 to the shootout in a patrol car driven by Deputy James McPheron.[3] Shortly after he engaged the robbers with his rifle, they stopped shooting and fled the scene, running into the wooded area of Lytle Creek, San Bernardino. "There would have been a lot more dead cops on the road if not for that weapon," said Riverside County Sheriff's Deputy Rolf Parkes. "After their capture, the suspects stated their intent was to fight to the death."[4]

Aftermath and prosecution of the perpetrators[edit | edit source]

The next day, three of the gunmen were arrested. The fourth, Manuel Delgado, was killed in a shootout with a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department SWAT team in the foothills. Suspect Chris Harven was hit once in the back by Deputy Evans, while suspect George Smith was hit twice in the left leg and groin by Deputy Bolasky. In all, eight officers had been wounded (Riverside County Sheriff Deputy Glyn Bolasky was hit five times; in the face, upper left shoulder, both forearms and the left elbow. Riverside County Sheriff Deputy Darrell Reed was hit once in the back of his left knee. Riverside County Sheriff Deputy Rolf Parkes was hit three times in the head, face and arm. Riverside County Sheriff Deputy Herman Brown was hit in the left lower leg by multiple bullet fragments. Riverside County Sheriff Deputy Ken McDaniels was hit once in the right shoulder. Riverside County Sheriff Deputy Tony Reynard was hit once in the left elbow. California Highway Patrol officer Bill Crowe was hit once in the right arm. San Bernardino County Sheriff's Deputy D. J. McCarty was hit once in the right arm) and one killed. The three arrested suspects, George Wayne Smith and brothers Christopher and Russell Harven, were convicted of 46 felonies and sentenced to life in prison without parole. One civilian, 12-year-old Robert Oglesby who was taking a bicycle ride with his friends, was hit by a single bullet in the finger. Deputy Bolasky recovered from his wounds sustained in the shootout and was awarded several decorations for his actions. He later became an officer in the U. S. Air Force,[2] rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and working as an electronic warfare officer.[5]

Legacy[edit | edit source]

In response to the fact that the suspects' weapons were superior to that of the police responding to the incident, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department equipped their deputies with Ruger Mini-14s chambered in .223 Remington as well as the M16 and AR-15. Police departments began purchasing more powerful firearms and equipping surveillance helicopters with weapons. Following the robbery, the Irvine Police Department used the case to create a training video. Though it occurred in 1980, it is still used in training law enforcement personnel in anti-terrorism and survival. As impetus for acquiring new weapons and as a training framework for anticipating violence, the Norco shootout contributed to the militarization of police forces across the United States.[6]

A street in Norco was named "Deputy Evans Drive" to honor James Evans, the officer who was killed during the shootout.

Film[edit | edit source]

A film, Rapid Fire (2006), was made about the shootout.

Book[edit | edit source]

Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery In American History, by Peter Houlahan (2019 book) is a documented account of the bank robbery, pursuit and 14-month death penalty trial that followed.[7]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

Coordinates: 33°55′29″N 117°33′34″W / 33.9246312°N 117.559306°W / 33.9246312; -117.559306