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WHY DID HE DO IT? : MOTHER SAYS ROBBER IN WITH BAD CROWD.

Byline: Stacy Finz and Mary F. Pols Daily News Staff Writer

One of two men who sprayed hundreds of rounds from an AK-47 in North Hollywood on Friday was a ``beautiful'' but troubled son who had fallen in with the wrong crowd and lost his will to live after his wife left him, the slain gunman's mother said Sunday.

During a tearful interview, Valerie Nicolescu of Altadena said her son Emil Dechebal Matasareanu suffered painful seizures from a 1994 head injury, had trouble finding a job, and had been depressed since his wife left him about six months ago, taking the couple's 6-year-old son, Emil.

``He could no longer take life,'' the mother said, religious candles burning in her darkened home as she mourned her son. ``He was acting in desperation.''

``I just want people to know that my son was very intelligent and very good,'' she added. ``I think he just got into the wrong crowd.''

Matasareanu and accomplice Larry Eugene Phillips Jr. were gunned down by police Friday in a spectacular, televised shootout after a botched bank robbery at a Bank of America on Laurel Canyon Boulevard south of Kittridge Street.

Eleven police officers and six civilians were wounded.

Nicolescu, who had been an opera singer in her native Romania, said her son's troubles began three years ago.

She said he suffered a blood clot in his head when he was struck by a patient in the day-care facility for the disabled and mentally ill that he and his mother operated out of their home.

He underwent surgery but had seizures. Then, the state took away the day-care license. Matasareanu's marriage faltered, and his wife and child returned to Romania, the mother said.

But neighbor Walter Kennedy, 82, recalled a different Matasareanu.

Kennedy said the man once swung a chain saw in his face, apparently angry that the neighbor's dog urinated in his front lawn.

Little was known of Phillips, 26, on Sunday. He had lived in Altadena, Santa Ana and Alhambra, and was wanted on suspicion of second-degree burglary in Colorado.

Neither Los Angeles police nor the Los Angeles County coroner would confirm the identities of the gunmen Sunday. Their names were obtained from other sources.

Nicolescu said she had never met Phillips, although he and her son had been arrested together in 1993 after police discovered them with an enormous cache of weapons during a routine traffic stop in Glendale.

The pair served brief jail sentences and were placed on three years' probation. Police said earlier they would not have been able to make conspiracy or robbery charges stick.

The cache looked like a bank robbery kit, police said. It included a carload of high-powered weapons, disguises, smoke bombs and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition.

Nicolescu said her son was a good person but was hanging out with a bad crowd.

Matasareanu and Phillips were clad in neck-to-ankle body armor when they emerged from the Bank of America on Laurel Canyon Boulevard south of Kittridge Street about 9:15 a.m. Friday, AK-47s blazing.

The would-be robbers waged a furious gunbattle with police, but they also sprayed automatic weapons fire indiscriminately at passers-by, homes and shops.

Police, armed only with service revolvers and heavily outgunned, mortally wounded the robbers in their heads and throats.

Two officers remained hospitalized Sunday. Martin Whitfield, 29, of the Van Nuys Division, and Stuart Guy, 31, of the North Hollywood Division, were in good condition, according to police.

A male civilian who underwent surgery Friday for gunshot wounds to the torso was in stable condition Sunday at North Hollywood Medical Center.

Denver police confirmed Sunday they have a file on Phillips but declined to release its contents without permission from Los Angeles police, who declined to grant such authority Sunday.

Glendale police said earlier they had turned over information about Phillips and Matasareanu to the FBI last year because their shoot-'em-up style of operation matched that in bank robberies in Van Nuys and Winnetka.

FBI spokesman John Hoos declined to comment Sunday.

Matasareanu had been estranged since July from his father, Viorel Matasareanu, who lives in a Pasadena apartment for senior citizens about 10 miles from that of Nicolescu, from whom he is divorced.

``I can't believe it. I think now I want to return to Romania. I came here only for him,'' the father said.

The father had spent time in jail in Romania after speaking out against communism about 20 years ago, he said.

He said his son studied at DeVry Institute of Technology, a Chicago-based school that offers bachelor's and associate's degrees in information systems, telecommunications management and accounting.

The father said he pushed his son to get a master's degree, but the son did not want to pursue his education.

CAPTION(S):

4 Photos

PHOTO (1) Larry Eugene Phillips Jr.

Robber gunned down Friday

(2) Nicolescu

(3) Matasareanu

(4 -- color) Crowds came Sunday to peer at the crime scene, where a slain gunman's imprint was visible.

Tina Gerson/Daily News
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 3, 1997
Words:835
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