WAILUKU - Saying a robber terrorized those in a Pukalani bank when he ordered everyone to the ground and threatened to shoot, a judge Tuesday sentenced the defendant to a 10-year prison term.
As a repeat offender, Richard "Ricky" Vance, 25, of Kula must serve at least three years and four months of the prison term before being eligible for parole.
The robbery occurred shortly after 3 p.m. Feb. 19 when about 15 people were in the Pukalani branch of First Hawaiian Bank.
Pukalani bank robber
While two others were identified as co-conspirators, Vance was the one who entered the bank that day, said Deputy Prosecutor Kim Whitworth.
Brandishing what appeared to be a gun concealed with a bandanna, Vance was heard saying, "Everybody f----ing get down, put the money in the bag or I'm going to shoot someone," Whitworth said.
She said he also threatened to kill anyone who moved.
"There's no way that the state can convey the unimaginable terror these victims felt, praying and wondering if they would ever see their friends and loved ones again," she said.
Vance left the bank with $9,682, Whitworth said. He fled on the back of a dirt bike operated by Michael Santino Sobel, 28, of Pukalani, according to police.
Whitworth read from a letter by a man who was in the bank when the robbery occurred.
"What I usually only see on the news happened to me," the letter said. "I wasn't sure if I would ever see my family again."
A woman who came "face to face" with Vance in the bank wrote: "Your screams never seemed to stop, and clearly you were nervous and high on drugs."
The woman's letter said she feared for her life and the lives of others in the bank. She said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Vance had pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of second-degree robbery and first-degree terroristic threatening.
Whitworth argued for consecutive sentences totaling 15 years for Vance, who was on probation at the time of the robbery.
"At a mere 25 years old, he has racked up over five prior felony convictions and probation revocations," she said.
But defense attorney Jon Apo asked for a 10-year prison term for Vance, calling him "an apologetic 25-year-old Upcountry kid."
Apo said much of Vance's behavior that day could be attributed to "his need to be the boyfriend" of co-defendant Christina Sawyer, 20, of Kula. She is awaiting sentencing after pleading no contest to a reduced charge of second-degree theft.
"Ms. Sawyer was far more of an active participant than her plea agreement acknowledges," Apo said. "He would never have gone to the extremes but for his need to be Ms. Sawyer's boyfriend. Add to this the cloud of drug abuse, the depression of knowing you're in violation of your probation.
"Back on February 19, he had nothing to lose doing what he did."
Speaking in court Tuesday, Vance said, "I'd like to apologize to everybody that was in that bank."
"I'm really sorry about what I did," he said. "I wasn't thinking. I wish I could take it back, but I can't. I'm ready to do whatever prison time I have to do to becoming a better member of society. I want to change my life."
Second Circuit Judge Peter Cahill noted that Vance's mother turned him in, calling police when she recognized him in video surveillance photos.
"That's pretty telling," Cahill said. "Obviously, she wanted to make sure you weren't putting yourself in harm by being in a shootout or hurting anybody else."
While the robbery charge carries a more serious penalty, Cahill said that the terror Vance spread was significant.
"It's a life-threatening event that someone may have only once in their entire life," Cahill said.
Vance was ordered to pay $4,810 in restitution.
"Hopefully, you'll pay your debt to society and come out a little bit smarter," Cahill told Vance. "Robbing a bank on a dirt bike with somebody else driving is obviously the height of stupidity."
Cahill said the getaway vehicle was a yellow dirt bike "and it's the only yellow dirt bike on the island."
"That's pretty stupid," the judge said.
Sobel is awaiting sentencing after he pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of second-degree robbery.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.