The death of a bank robber and the rescue of a hostage

by Howard Kohn

It may never be known what drove Carlos Rudolfo Espinoza Arcia, at age 43, to a reckless robbery plan and an apparent wish to die on the morning of January 28, but his total desperation is evident from a live-time film recorded by a long-distance lens on a Channel 5 helicopter.

The film, distributed on YouTube to far corners of the globe, lasts less than two minutes, but it is horrifying to watch, not only because Espinoza Arcia brought his craziness here, to the Capital One bank in Takoma-Langley Crossroads, as mall employees and patrons were starting their day, but also because, when you see real lives hanging on the unpredictable nature of bottomed-out emotions, calculated gambles and winter conditions, there is only one possible reaction: hold your breath and pray. 

When Espinoza Arcia left his rented room in Hyattsville that morning he had in his possession a 9 mm handgun and two rectangular packages he’d constructed from sponges, foil, duct tape and copper wiring that he hoped to pass off as bombs. Wearing a mask and a hood, he entered the bank at 9:22 a.m., walked to a teller’s cage, placed one of his contraptions on the counter, threatened to make it explode, waved his gun and asked for cash.


A man standing nearby, the only customer in the bank, realized the bomb
was a fake and impulsively grabbed for the gun, but didn’t gain
control.  Espinoza Arcia retaliated, raining blows on the man’s head
with the gun butt.  The teller seized this chance to slip a dye pack
into a money bag before handing it over.

An alarm had already been triggered, summoning police and the news
chopper, and Espinoza Arcia, obviously aware that the real world was
closing in on the plan he had concocted, took hold of a woman as a
hostage. 

On the News 5 footage he is seen emerging from the bank and moving along
a sidewalk, the woman forced ahead of him, his gun at her head. Several
police officers face him, weapons drawn, but they slowly retreat,
except for one, who stands his ground near a snowbank and creates a
brief close-quarters confrontation that may not have been police
procedure according to Hoyle but may have altered everything.

Espinoza Arcia pivots, awkwardly trying to get past the officer and the
snowbank.  He begins walking backwards, keeping the woman in front of
him. Suddenly the dye pack bursts open.  He flinches and, not knowing he
is at a curb, steps down onto iced-over snow and loses his footing. His
hostage breaks free and runs toward the largest concentration of
police. 

Rather than try to flee, or surrender, Espinoza Arcia chases after her, gun in his right hand and right arm thrust forward.
It is over in seconds, although you could ponder forever all the
possible unacceptable scenarios.  The officers yell at Espinoza Arcia to
give up.  He ignores them, and yet he does not shoot. Nor do the
police. This pause, a very short countdown that seems like mutual
restraint, goes on agonizingly long. Then it ends, as it must.  Six
officers, three of them from Takoma Park and three from Prince George’s
County, fire their weapons.

Only in the aftermath did police find out that Espinoza Arcia, who died at the scene, had not loaded any bullets into his gun.

“The hostage and all the officers went home to their families that
evening, and for that I am truly grateful,” said Takoma Park Police
Chief Ron Ricucci in a heartfelt statement a couple days later.  He said
he felt pride in his officers, who had been on patrol at the mall and
were the first to respond to the bank alarm, and relief at the outcome.

The man who had been pistol-whipped was hospitalized for his injuries and is recovering.

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