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Canyon Country: Witnesses describe moments of terror during bank robbery

Preliminary hearing begins for suspected Crips gang members in September takeover robbery

Posted: March 19, 2013 6:57 p.m.
Updated: March 19, 2013 6:57 p.m.

SAN FERNANDO — Witnesses took the stand in San Fernando Superior Court on Tuesday to describe long moments of sheer terror as suspected gang members allegedly threatened and shouted at them during a Canyon Country bank robbery last fall.

The testimony came as a preliminary hearing got under way for three men identified by prosecutors as Crips gang members accused in the take-over robbery of Bank of America on Soledad Canyon Road in September.

A fourth suspect escaped as the alleged robbers fled south on Southern California freeways following the holdup, law enforcement in pursuit.

The trio wound up in South Los Angeles, where they allegedly tossed cash from their car as TV-camera-equipped helicopters hovered overhead.

The three were captured as spectators pressed toward their car, reaching for money.

Phillip Ely, 29, Lavelle Mosley, 22, and Terion Lamarr Collins, 25, were flanked in court by their respective lawyers.

They are charged with four counts each of second-degree robbery and one count each of kidnapping to commit another crime. The complaint levels street-gang membership and gun-use allegations against each defendant.

During the preliminary hearing, prosecutors will present evidence in the case, and the defense can respond, after which the judge will decide if the case should go to trial.

The robbery occurred Sept. 12 about 10 a.m.

On Tuesday, an assistant bank manager told the court what he saw inside the branch that day.

Luis Urrego described how bank robbers, wearing nylon masks, yelled at his employees, jumped over a teller’s counter and dragged one employee 15 feet across the bank by the back of his jacket.

Deputy District Attorney Moira Curry asked Urrego: “When the suspects entered the bank you said one of them jumped over the counter past you?”

Urrego said yes and that a second suspect also walked “right in front” of him.

One teller “seemed like she was in shock, crouching or sitting down,” he said, and another teller stood as if “frozen” when robbers entered the bank and demanded money.

“I saw one of the suspects point at (the first teller) and she got her keys and started unlocking her (cash) drawer,” he said.

When the prosecutor asked how the suspect pointed, Urrego stood up in court and raised his right hand in front of him as if pointing a gun.

“She started crying,” he said of the teller.

“She got her keys but it took her a little while because she seemed in shock,” he said.

The robber yelled at the teller to unlock her bottom cash drawer, which contains 10 times the amount of money kept in the top drawer, Urrego said.

“He banged on the (top) drawer,” Urrego said. “Open up the (expletive) drawer or I’ll (expletive) shoot you.”
Urrego said he opened the drawer and told the robber, “Take what you want.”

A second suspect then accosted a man who worked at the bank, he said.

“(The employee) was at his station on his knees,” Urrego said. “The suspect grabbed him and started dragging him across the room.”

The robber grabbed the employee by the back of his jacket, using both hands, he said.

“He was dragging him and (the employee) was on his knees. He was fighting back, struggling a bit,” Urrego said.

Before the suspects ran out of the bank, one of them noticed a teller on her cell phone, he said.

“He noticed she had something in her hand and he said, ‘Give me your (expletive) phone.’ She put her hand out but it looked like he ripped it out of her hand.”

Keeping with the robbery’s chronology, Curry called on a witness who said he saw men running from the bank to a waiting car.

John Springer, who served 40 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, told the court how he saw two young men run from the bank the day of the robbery, then followed the getaway car which he tracked to a nearby alley and found abandoned.

“I saw two gentlemen running out of the bank, wearing masks and hats,” said John Springer. They got into a black Honda, and he followed it, he said.

“It was my intention to be a good witness,” he said. “I wanted to get a license plate number.”

The Honda headed into an alley behind the shopping center, Springer following. He found the Honda apparently abandoned and saw two cars leave the alley. One went back to the bank and the other turned south on Whites Canyon Road.

He followed the car down Whites Canyon, getting close enough to look at the driver.

“I didn’t want to confront them,” he said.

He returned to the bank and gave Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station deputies a statement.

Asked if he saw the car’s driver in court Tuesday, he identified Ely.

Curry then called Kevin Kosoinski, a retired 11-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who said was walking on a bike path behind the Ross store when he saw men jump out of one car and into a black Volvo SUV.

He turned to notice, he said, when he “heard a vehicle accelerate at the rear of the store ... at a high rate of speed.

“I saw persons exiting a vehicle and running,” he said. “I saw them running northward to another vehicle that was a black Volvo SUV fronted into the Ross building,” he said.

“They appeared to be wearing dark clothing entering the SUV,” he said.

Kosoinski said he followed from a distance of 50 feet.

The prosecutor then entered into evidence “people’s exhibit number 7,” which Kosoinski identified as a page from his notebook on which he wrote down the license plate number of the Volvo.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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