3 alleged bank robbers headed to court
TREMONT - Three men charged in as many bank robberies in Tremont and Tower City earlier this year had charges against them held for court during preliminary hearings Thursday.
Juan R. Cooke III, 32, of 504 Graham St., Harrisburg, and Darrell D. Dixon, 28, of 424 Harris St., Harrisburg, were charged with robbing Miners Bank, 29 E. Main St., Tremont, on Aug. 23.
Kevin E. Smith, 28, of 628 Curtain St., Harrisburg, was charged with robbing Miners Bank in Tremont on June 6 and also Halifax Bank, 920 E. Wiconisco Ave., Tower City, on June 29.
In connection with the Aug. 23 robbery in Tremont, state police Trooper John Sleboda of the Schuylkill Haven station charged Cooke, the alleged robber, with robbery, conspiracy, terroristic threats, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property and recklessly endangering another person.
Dixon, the alleged driver of the getaway vehicle, was charged by Sleboda with robbery, conspiracy, theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property.
Van crashed on I-81
Before the hearing, prosecutors added charges of fleeing or attempting to elude police, careless driving, reckless driving and driving with a suspended license stemming from a chase and crash following the robbery.
Sleboda told the court his investigation determined Cooke entered the bank, demanded money and fled with $18,222.32.
After getting a description of the vehicle, a trooper from the Jonestown station saw the robbers traveling south on Interstate 81 in Lebanon County and tried to pull them over. Dixon crashed the van, injuring himself and Cooke.
At the hospital, Sleboda said neither man wanted to talk but a substantial amount of money was found inside the wrecked van, including marked money from the bank.
"The bait money matched the money that was inside the van," Sleboda said.
Bank teller Jessica Smith told the court that Cooke entered the bank, jumped over the counter and demanded money while threatening to kill the tellers.
Cooke did not, however, display a weapon or physically harm anyone inside the bank, Jessica Smith said.
Sleboda said the men were taken to the Schuylkill Haven station after being released from the hospital, and Dixon admitted driving the car and going with Cooke to rob the bank.
The interview also revealed the men were told by another man, later identified as Kevin Smith, that the bank was an easy target.
Sleboda said Dixon recalled Kevin Smith saying, "This was an easy score," referring to Miners Bank.
Sleboda also said Cooke "admitted he went into the bank and stole the money."
Pankake denied motions by the men's defense attorneys on Thursday to reduce the $1 million bail set at the time of their arraignment. A bail-reduction hearing is scheduled for this morning in Schuylkill County Court.
The judge then conducted another hearing and again determined prosecutors proved a prima facie case against Smith for the two other robberies.
Sleboda charged Kevin Smith with robbery, terroristic threats, receiving stolen property and theft by unlawful taking stemming from the June 6 Tremont bank robbery and Trooper Chad Smith, also of the Schuylkill Haven station, charged the man with identical charges in connection with the June 29 robbery at Halifax Bank.
Before the hearing, First Assistant District Attorney William Reilly withdrew the terroristic threats charges against Kevin Smith but added a charge of use of unlawful proceeds after the man allegedly bought a car with some of the stolen money.
Jessica Smith again testified she was working at Miners Bank on June 6 when Kevin Smith entered and demanded she and three other tellers fill bags with money. Jessica Smith said they took the bags and fled the scene.
Sleboda said Kevin Smith got away with $6,719.99 on June 6.
Vehicle tracked down
At Halifax Bank, Trooper Smith said Kevin Smith entered wearing similar clothing to the man in the Tremont heist and demanded money from two tellers. He received $13,414.21 and fled.
Employees from both banks said Kevin Smith did not show a weapon and did not harm them.
Sleboda told the court the investigation into the August heist led authorities to get the "street name" that Kevin Smith uses.
During the investigation, Sleboda said state police at Lykens found two employees at a Williamstown-area business who recalled Kevin Smith at their store. After recognizing him from news reports, the employees took down the license plate number of the car and reported it to police.
Sleboda told the court that license plate came back to a vehicle registered to Alicia Williams, Harrisburg, later determined to be Kevin Smith's girlfriend. It also matched the description of the vehicle used in the two robberies.
Sleboda said a search warrant was served at the woman's Harrisburg home and although nothing related to the robbery was seized, Williams identified Kevin Smith as the robber when she was shown a photo taken by bank security cameras during one of the heists.
Sleboda said investigators learned at that time that Kevin Smith used more than $3,000 to buy a used Cadillac from a Harrisburg dealer June 30, one day after the Halifax robbery, and when asked by Williams where he got the money, he told her, "You ask too much."