Teller recounts terror of robbery

WAILUKU – A bank teller said that she feared for her life when a robber appeared to point a gun at a fellow teller last week at First Hawaiian Bank in Pukalani.

“I was scared. . . . We were all scared,” said teller Rina Alejo, who was testifying in a preliminary hearing in Wailuku District Court on Tuesday involving suspects in the robbery. “You don’t know if somebody is going to shoot you.”

Alejo identified Kula resident Richard “Ricky” Vance, 25, who was in the courtroom, as the robber and testified that he waved what appeared to be a gun concealed by a bandana in the air and told everybody in the bank to get on the ground. She said that the 15 people inside the bank, including the customer in front of her, immediately dropped to the floor.

Vance threw a reusable blue Walmart bag at her, told her to give him all the money she had and swore at her to hurry up, she told the court. Alejo said he demanded money from three other tellers.

She said Vance later pointed the weapon at another teller, telling her to “hurry the f— up before I shoot somebody.”

Alejo said Vance exited through the main entrance, and she later heard the sound of a dirt bike.

Detective Wendell Loo testified that the pair made off with $9,682.

After the testimony Tuesday afternoon, Wailuku District Judge Kelsey T. Kawano ruled that there was probable cause to support charges of first-degree robbery and terroristic threatening against Vance and his accomplice, Michael Santino Sobel, 28, of Pukalani.

In testimony during the preliminary hearing, Sobel was identified as the man on the dirt bike who aided in the getaway.

Kawano continued bail of $105,000 for each man; both are scheduled to appear in 2nd Circuit Court on March 7.

Testifying at the preliminary hearing was Christina Sawyer, 20, of Kula, who was initially charged with first-degree robbery and terroristic threatening in the case. She agreed to testify against Vance and Sobel in exchange for the dismissal of the terroristic threatening charge and a reduced charge of second-degree theft, according to her attorney, William Sloper.

The prosecution waived her bail, and she was set to be released.

Sawyer, who said she was a friend of Vance, testified that Vance planned the robbery and had talked about it a couple days before the incident, though she was not sure if he was serious.

“All of a sudden, on the 19th it got real,” she said.

Sawyer said she met Sobel for the first time at the Pukalani Shell and Car Wash on Feb. 19. She said that Sobel drove Vance to the bank on the dirt bike and that Vance instructed her to wait on the side of Kula Highway by Longs Drugs.

After the robbery, she testified, she followed Vance and Sobel up the highway in a maroon Toyota Corolla, where the three met on a back road. Sawyer said she saw the blue bag and drove Vance to her house. They both looked through the money in the bag, then Vance changed his clothes, removing a black hooded sweatshirt, bandana and dirt bike gloves.

Sawyer drove Vance to the Minit Stop in Pukalani, where Vance had a conversation with Sobel and handed him some of the stolen money, she said.

Sawyer and Vance then headed to Kahului where she used some of the stolen money to buy some lingerie at Macy’s, she told the court. Sawyer said that she later deposited some of the money into her account at American Savings Bank.

On Feb. 20, the pair made their way to the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali, where they were arrested by police officers, Sawyer testified.

Defense attorney Jon Apo, who represents Vance, and Deputy Public Defender Gregory Ball, who represents Sobel, questioned Sawyer’s recollection of the events, noting that she was on oxycontin at the time.

She confirmed the claim but said that she had a clear mindset that day.

Bank supervisor Debbie Herrera testified that some of the money that was stolen Feb.19 was marked bills, a precaution used to trace stolen money back to the bank. Alejo, who has been a bank teller since 2004, told the court that every morning they have a cash can that has money from the previous day, as well as marked money.

Loo and fellow Detective Stephen Orikasa found some of the marked money at Sobel’s residence and in Sawyer’s wallet. Detectives also found the yellow-and-black dirt bike at Sobel’s residence.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at