Branch 384 of Bank of America is sited at 6600 Laurel Canyon Boulevard, North Hollywood, California.
It was and remains, the largest branch of that institution in the area.
The 12,540 sq ft cream stuccoed single storey building sits off centre on a 1.38 acre site, bordered on both the north and south by customer parking lots. It's eastern boundary is formed by a four feet high cinderblock wall that separates the lot from the rear yards of the houses on Agnes Avenue. The western boundary is formed by the busy four lane Laurel Canyon Boulevard. Directly opposite the bank sits the Valley Plaza shopping area, a mixture of small businesses with what was in 1997 a Hughes grocery store dominating the northern end of the precinct.
Branch 384 is a community bank. It is nestled in the midst of commercial premises and a mere stone's throw from residential dwellings. It draws custom from all the walks of life that it requires to make it a successful operation, servicing both commercial and personal customers.
It is located within a half mile of the 170 freeway which runs north/south, and is close to several east/west arterial routes through the valley.
With the ease of physical access to this property came another problem, ease of escape for any who chose to rob this particular branch, and on 28th February 1997 Branch 384 became centre stage for one such robbery.
At approximately 0915hrs Matasareanu drove the white Chevrolet Celebrity into the north parking lot of Branch 384 via Archwood Street. As he nosed the small white sedan up into the lot the presence of a tractor/trailer unit to his left on Archwood would hardly have registered. Yet he had just driven past the one of the most important elements of this story and one that would ultimately seal their fate.
A witness, albeit one whose story appears shaky, stated that there was a second vehicle circling the lot with the bandit Chevy. This second vehicle does not appear to have been noticed by any of the other exterior witnesses but that does not rule out its potential presence.
He circled the lot once before pulling the vehicle to a halt, nose in, to a disabled bay that faced the bank's northern wall.
Parked beside the Chevy were three vehicles.
Furthest away from the Chevy a grey 1986 Honda Civic.
Next to the Civic, a 1993 Ford Explorer.
Between the Explorer and bandit Chevrolet sat a white 1987 Acura Legend; it's owner was to become the very first person that day to meet the occupants of the Chevy.
Inside the Celebrity with the blacked out windows Phillips and Matasareanu waited for close to two minutes. What for? Nobody knows. Yet what is known is that this static period proved critical in their downfall, had they entered the bank immediately then the chances of the two police officers that were travelling southbound on Laurel seeing them would have been virtually nonexistent.
Common lore of this story tells us that they exited the vehicle and retrieved their two primary weapons from the trunk; this seems an unworkable scenario and seems to be based only on the fact that Phillips would later retrieve additional firearms from the trunk.
After their 1993 weapons arrest in Glendale one would have to ask how likely it as that they were to be travelling to a robbery dressed in body armour and toting multiple magazine pouches yet with their weapons safely stashed in the trunk. It sure would have made for an interesting traffic stop.
Given their later refusal to surrender in the face of overwhelming odds and their obvious 'learning' protocols from their previous robberies it seems implausible to believe they would willingly place themselves into a carbon copy situation of the 1993 Glendale traffic stop.
It is more likely then that the two primary rifles were laid across the rear seat, covered with the Trawell duffle bag, thus allowing easier access in case of such a stop on the way to Laurel Canyon.
Whichever scenario is correct is moot though, as he clock ticked over to 0916hrs both men exited the Chevrolet and crossed the thirty two feet to the pathway that runs adjacent to the sidewalk leading from the north lot to the northeast door of the bank.
Behind the duo, at this point separated by barely 150 meters, came a North Hollywood patrol vehicle. The situation, as infant as it was, was about to become critical.
As the black-and-white being driven by Officer Martin Perello crossed through the Archwood/Agnes intersection he looked to his left, checking the general area of the bank and was greeted by the sight of the gunmen turning into the north-east doorway of the bank.
Perello, on the job for only eighteen months at that point, yelled out '2-11' (the LAPD code for an armed robbery).
Sitting in the passenger seat of the cruiser and writing in his administrative log was nine year LAPD veteran Loren Farrell. Farrell, startled, looked up and saw the two large gunmen dressed all in black, he later recalled trying to focus on what weapons the duo were carrying.
Swinging the black and white across Laurel Canyon Boulevard Perello came to a halt in the south parking lot.
Taking up positions behind a parked semi cab Farrell's first words of the infamous police broadcast cut through the airwaves:
"15A43 requesting assistance, we have a possible 211 in progress at the Bank of America, Bank of America Laurel Canyon north of Kittridge..."
In the north-east doorway there was a third body in the mix, a civilian who slowed the gunmen's entry just long enough to allow the two North Hollywood officers an extra second or two to see what was about to go down as they had driven past.
At one of the three north door ATMs stood the 32 year old owner of the Acura that was parked next to the bandit's Chevy; the next time he would see his car, several hours later, it would be riddled with bullet holes.
He had just deposited $85 and as he was awaiting his receipt he felt a presence several feet to his left hand side. Thinking it was only a security guard he grabbed his receipt, turned and came face-to-face with Larry Phillips.
This witness would recall Phillips words, "OK, MOTHERFUCKER, LET'S GO!"
The ATM cameras caught this interaction. Before the day was over they would record a whole lot more.
Matasareanu had skirted to the right around the pair and was reaching for the door.
Phillips, holding his rifle in his right hand, pushed the ATM customer in through the bank door with his left.
Inside the bank one of the two security guards on duty from American Protective Services that day saw the scuffle happening outside. Seeing the masks and realising what was about to happen he depressed the call button on his radio and called his partner who was patrolling the south lot, unaware of the developing situation.
"We are being robbed. Get out of here and call the police."
The message appears not to have been received.
The chaos in North Hollywood was about to begin.