On most days Venice resident Robert DiMassa works as a business owner, but for one afternoon last week, DiMassa got an idea of what a life of fighting crime might be like.
DiMassa, 37, is a 16-year resident of Venice who owns Superior Car Care, an auto detail and auto body business with five local locations.
Shortly after noon Wednesday, September 28th, DiMassa was in the West Los Angeles area buying a tire at a local store, at the same time the nearby Pacific Western Bank, 11150 W. Olympic Blvd., was being robbed.
DiMassa went outside the store when a bank employee who was chasing the robbery suspect informed DiMassa of what had just happened.
“The bank teller ran past me and said, ‘That guy just robbed the bank,’ ” DiMassa said. “I saw the robber, who took his shirt off, running down the street, so I followed him in my truck.”
Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) West Los Angeles Community Police Station detective J. Licata said the unarmed robbery suspect, a 39-year-old Los Angeles man, had given the bank teller a demand note and fled with an undisclosed amount of money.
After seeing the suspect flee and hop onto a Big Blue Bus on Pico Boulevard, DiMassa said he pulled his truck in front of the bus, stopping the bus to inform the driver of the presence of the robbery suspect.
The suspect then got out of the bus and started running again, and DiMassa continued to chase the man in his truck for about two blocks.
DiMassa said he eventually got out of his truck and began to chase the suspect on foot westbound on Pico Boulevard.
While DiMassa has no law enforcement experience and was initially unsure of whether the suspect was armed, DiMassa said he continued to chase the man and later noticed that the shirtless suspect was in fact unarmed.
“When I noticed that he was not armed I decided to keep up with him until police got there,” DiMassa said.
Licata commended the effort of DiMassa in chasing the robbery suspect, saying that it took courage to go after a potentially dangerous suspect.
“He placed himself in jeopardy,” Licata said. “It was a brave thing to do to follow the suspect because (DiMassa) didn’t know if he was armed.”
When chasing the suspect on foot, DiMassa said he stayed at least ten feet behind the man and didn’t approach him.
“The whole time it was happening I was not thinking about it,” DiMassa said of potentially being in danger. “I was just trying to keep up with him so police could know where he was.”
Once DiMassa spotted police, he flagged officers down and directed them to the suspect.
But when officers had the suspect virtually cornered, he turned back toward DiMassa, who said he then used a “grappling” technique to take the suspect to the ground and held him until officers handcuffed the man.
“I don’t think he had a plan of where he was going or what he was going to do,” DiMassa said of the suspect.
LAPD West Los Angeles division officers arrested the suspect, who has been charged with one count of bank robbery, Licata said. All of the money taken in the Pacific Western Bank robbery has been recovered.
The effort of DiMassa in chasing the suspect proved to be a key factor in leading police to the suspect, Licata said.
“Without (DiMassa) continuing to follow the suspect, there’s a likelihood he would have gotten away,” Licata said.
Although it seems DiMassa did not have any personal reason to take off running after the robbery suspect that afternoon, he said he chose to help out because it was “the right thing to do.”
“I just wanted to stop him before something else happened,” said DiMassa, who added that when he returned to the bank he received a round of applause from employees.
“It felt good to be able to help out and stop him from possibly hurting somebody.”