Trial Ordered For Man Accused In Four San Diego Bank Robberies - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Trial Ordered For Man Accused In Four San Diego County Bank Robberies

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A man accused of holding up four San Diego County banks over a 2 1/2-month period must stand trial on robbery and other charges, a judge ruled today.

Thomas Edward Lavalle, 61, is accused of robbing banks in Escondido, Fallbrook, Encinitas and Carmel Mountain Ranch on Jan. 30, Feb. 26, March 5 and March 13, respectively.

After the last heist, Lavalle led authorities on a 40-minute high-speed pursuit before he was taken into custody, according to authorities.

Chris Davidson testified that he was working as a teller at a Washington Mutual branch in Fallbrook on Feb. 26 when a man handed him a note with the words "All cash. All drawers. No alarms" typed on three separate lines.

Prosecutor Makenzie Harvey asked the witness why he emptied his drawer for the man.

"Because he demanded it," Davidson answered.

The robber -- wearing sunglasses and a hat -- put about $1,500 in a banker's bag and left the bank, the witness said.

His co-worker, fellow teller Amy Jo Minkoff, said the robber was dressed like a golfer. That night, she saw a police chase on television and realized the suspect was driving the same car used in the bank heist that morning, Minkoff said.

"I said to my husband, that may be our bank robber," she testified.

Bank teller Jordan Adams testified that a man who gave him a similar note got away with about $8,200 from the Wells Fargo bank on El Camino Real in Encinitas on March 5.

San Diego police Officer Mitchell Jones testified that he attempted to stop Lavalle's Honda Civic on a freeway ramp following the March 13 holdup at the Bank of America branch on Carmel Mountain Road.

The officer said he backed out of the pursuit when the suspect drove the wrong way on the Carroll Canyon Road onramp and then took off.

Jones said he and a detective found a typewritten demand note in Lavalle's checkbook after his car was stopped near Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

California Highway Patrol Officer Arturo Portillo testified that he first saw Lavalle driving eastbound at about 80-90 mph in the westbound lanes of state Route 52.

The suspect vehicle exited the freeway and started going west on state Route 52, and officers eventually stopped the car after Lavalle ran over a spike strip, Portillo testified.

San Diego police Detective Tim Johnson testified he found a bank bag with $1,101 in cash, a loaded semiautomatic handgun, baseball caps, sunglasses and folders during a search of the defendant's vehicle.

The Honda's license plates were covered with paper to make it look like dealer plates, the detective said.

After hearing two hours of testimony, Judge John Einhorn ruled that enough evidence was presented to order Lavalle to stand trial June 12 on seven charges.

Lavelle, who's being held in lieu of $500,000 bail, faces nearly nine years in state prison if convicted of four counts of robbery, one count of felony evading and misdemeanor counts of being in possession of a concealed weapon and carrying a loaded firearm.

The defendant is also suspected in two Riverside County bank robberies in Palm Desert, Harvey said earlier.

A readiness conference was for June 4.

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