Around 2:20 p.m. on April 21, seven customers and six employees were inside the Culver and Michelson branch of Bank of the West, next to a Carl’s Jr. restaurant, expecting to go about their normal business routines.
A few minutes later, these 13 would get more than they bargained for as three men, armed with handguns, robbed the bank and got away with an unspecified amount of money.
‘Essentially, three armed men entered with ski masks on. One of them stood at the door, watched the door and watched his watch and was yelling out the seconds as they were passing, while the other two ordered everyone to the ground, jumped the teller’s counters, got into the teller’s drawers, took all their cash, and were out of there in a minute,’ said Irvine Police Lieutenant Jeff Love.
Although Irvine is one of America’s safest cities, it is not the first time a robbery occurred at this Bank of the West branch.
‘The last one I believe was about a year ago, in August 2003,’ Wolff said.
Love said that even though a robbery occurred before, ‘bank robberies are not common and take over robberies are less frequent.’
The suspects in this case are described as African-American, between 23 and 25 years of age, around five feet eight inches to five feet eleven inches, all with slim builds.
‘They are being considered armed and dangerous,’ said Vickie Hampton-Franklin, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles branch of the FBI. ‘In this particular case they jumped over the counter as one stood guard and they mentioned ‘Get down, get down. If they move, shoot ’em.”
It is not known whether or not there were only three suspects involved, or if there was a fourth accomplice who drove the getaway car.
‘There’s some secondhand information from someone who was in the parking lot that thinks that they may have left in a small tan-colored pickup truck,’ Love said.
While nobody in the bank was harmed during the robbery, an elderly woman was taken to the hospital after complaining about chest pains.
Employees received attention after the incident as well.
‘In this case we did provide counselors and made them available to [the tellers] at the branch as a result of this incident,’ said Bob Wolff, assistant vice president of corporate communications for Bank of the West.
As is the case with all bank robberies, the FBI is handling the investigation for this incident. The FBI is reluctant to reveal information about their investigation, but they encourage people who might have been in the area during the incident to contact them.
‘This investigation is ongoing and we are seeking assistance from anyone who has information, and we strongly encourage them to contact us,’ Hampton-Franklin said.
Citing security reasons, officials from Bank of the West declined to comment on the details of the robbery, including how much money was stolen, the level of security at the Irvine branch at the time of the incident and specific changes to their security system following the robbery.
‘All Bank of the West tellers receive training in robbery procedures,’ Wolff stated.
Days after the incident, security at the Irvine Bank of the West appeared to be heightened as a private security guard was seen protecting the entrance to the bank.
In regards to the money the robbers got away with, Love suggested the money that the suspects got away with might be worthless.
‘The money did have some explosive dye packs in them,’ Love said. ‘There’s a red dye and a low-grade explosive device in it. It pops and it spreads the red dye all over the money. The idea is to mark the suspect.’
Despite the armed robbery, customers at the bank are not worried about their safety.
‘It’s a natural occurrence,’ said John Tang, Irvine resident and customer at Bank of the West. ‘My money is always insured by the federal government, I’m not too worried about that.’
Erik Osenbaugh, Costa Mesa resident and customer at Bank of the West, agreed with Tang.
‘No, I wouldn’t have a problem coming here even if they did not have a guard. It’s a safe area,’ Osenbaugh said. ‘There will not be a change in plans because I’m not concerned.’
Love offered advice for those faced with a situation like the one that 13 customers and employees at the Bank of the West experienced last Wednesday.
‘Don’t try to fight with the individuals, they’re armed, they’re probably not afraid to use force,’ Love said. ‘Just be a good witness, make good observations and just cooperate.’