Much has been made of the odd team of Larry Eugene Phillips Jr. and Emil Matasareanu, who robbed Bank of America's North Hollywood branch in February of 1997.
The two self-styled survivalists and military weapons nuts met in a Venice, Calif., gym in 1989. They earned the nickname "The High Incident Bandits," because they were suspects in several armored car and bank robberies in Colorado and California. The firefight that resulted with LAPD would forever change the way cops train. It also secured a place for patrol rifles in future patrol cars.
These same lessons were well learned earlier by Inland Empire law enforcement in Riverside and San Bernardino counties on May 6, 1980. Five young men who saw themselves as survivalists and "gun nuts" — not quite militia, not quite white supremacists — attempted to rob a bank.
They would later be described simply as rednecks (although several were Latinos). This "redneck" gang carefully studied the Anarchist Cookbook and led responding officers on a 25-mile running gun battle from Norco to the Lytle Creek area of the San Bernardino Mountains. They damaged or destroyed 33 patrol cars, shot down a sheriff's helicopter, wounded eight officers and killed Riverside County Sheriff's Deputy James Evans.
This redneck gang of five had built numerous improvised explosive devices (IEDs) made from gun powder, PVC pipe, cans, safety fuse, bottles and scraps of metal for shrapnel. Some IEDs were designed to be thrown like hand grenades but others were made to be launched from a shotgun and were effective out to quite a range. Several of the shotgun-launched IEDs were fragmentary grenades and others were incendiary devices.
The gang had practiced and zeroed in their handguns, shotguns and AR-15, .223-caliber rifle in an unsupervised shooting area called Lytle Creek. Years later, a public shooting range would be built there.
This gang was made up of Beliasro Delgado, 17, and his brother Manuel Delgado. The oldest member was 30-year-old Christopher Gregory Harven of Mira Loma. The remaining members were Russell Harven, 27, of Anaheim and the brains of the gang George Wayne Smith, 28, of Cypress.
The incident began when the suspects carjacked a green van in the city of Brea, taking the driver hostage. They were dressed in military fatigue jackets and wearing masks. As a diversion, the gang set an IED under a gas main about a block away. The device used a candle to time the detonation to draw police away from the targeted bank. An observant Norco resident noticed the burning candle and reported it to the fire department. This prevented the device from going off.
Not waiting for the failed diversion, four of the gang members entered the Security Pacific Bank at Fourth Street and Hammer Avenue. George Smith had cased the bank earlier and had come up with the actual plan to rob the bank, but the plan was falling apart already.