Vectra Thieve May Be Traced to Earlier Heist
~ by Rick Langenberg ~
A prompt, multi-agency investigation, aided by local citizens is credited for snagging a dangerous suspect who robbed a major bank institution in downtown Woodland Park–an incident that kept the community on a “red alert” status for hours last week.
The local school district was also placed on “secure perimeter” status in the early afternoon of May 4, meaning that school buses couldn’t leave the premises. The alerts flooded the area with inquiries on social media, with officials merely describing the scene initially as one involving “police activity in the area.”
But unlike a previous local bank heist of nearly two years ago, this one ended with the alleged robber behind bars.
“We couldn’t have done this without the help of the residents and a number of agencies,” said Woodland Park Police Commander Christopher Adams. “This was great team work.” Adams estimates that at least 10 officers from the Woodland Park Police Department participated in the hunt for the bank robber, along with scores of investigators from nearby agencies. SWAT team experts from El Paso County actually captured the suspect, according to Adams.
The police, through its Facebook page, thanked citizens and other departments for their cooperation.
Similar sentiments were voiced by Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery, who made a surprising announcement at a council meeting Thursday evening in which he praised the cooperation of neighboring agencies on behalf of the police department and gave an update on the investigation. The suspect was captured shortly after the council meeting concluded.
The Woodland Park Police, along with the officers from the FBI, the El Paso and Teller County Sheriff departments, partook in the pursuit of the alleged robber that resulted in the arrest of 37-year-old Donte Lee on the evening of May 4 around 9 p.m. without incident at the Rocky Top Motel and Campground near Green Mountain Falls. He faces charges of theft, robbery, felony menacing, and may be charged for other reported bank heists.
Lee reportedly attempted to rob the Vectra Bank in downtown Woodland Park off Hwy. 24 by slipping the bank teller a note, and demanding money and threatening violence, according to officials. No weapon, though, was identified during the incident. After receiving an undisclosed amount of money, Lee fled from the bank on foot.
A 911 call was then made to the police department, shortly before 2 p.m. from bank employees, and the school district sent out a series of alerts, but didn’t elaborate into details.
A release sent out by the district stated that “student and staff safety is our number one priority,” after placing schools on “secure perimeter” for the “police activity in the area.” Columbine Elementary, Gateway Elementary, Woodland Park Middle School and Woodland Park High School were put on secure perimeter.Ten minutes later, secure perimeter was lifted for Woodland Park Middle School and Columbine, but continued at Gateway Elementary and Woodland Park High School.
Shortly after the order was lifted, the police sent out an alert and posted pictures of the suspect, taken from security cameras of Vectra bank. They advised residents that the suspect may be armed and should be considered dangerous
According to Adams, the police department received many tips from residents, who reportedly spotted the suspect traveling east of Woodland Park. “We received a lot of phone calls,” admitted the police commander. “We got a lot of help from the citizens.”
Lee was then captured that evening at the Rocky Top Motel, where he was staying.
Lee was reportedly residing at the motel with his wife and children for the last week. However, he acted alone when he robbed the bank, according to officials.
The bank robbery may be part of a trend for the suspect according to police officials in the region.
Authorities also believe that Lee, an African-American male, was responsible for a robbery at the Herring Bank in Colorado Springs at 311 N. Nevada on April 25. An arrest warrant was obtained by the Colorado Springs Police for Lee for aggravated robbery pertaining to that heist.
According to a report aired on KRDO News Channel 13, Lee’s previous criminal record includes three years of probation in 2015 for menacing and 45 days in jail after pleading guilty for impaired driving in 2014. Police officials in Woodland Park, though, said they didn’t have any previous problems with Lee.
Big City Crime Arrives in Woodland Pak
Last week’s bank robbery marks the second time in the last two years a major financial institution in Woodland Park has been targeted by a suspected thief who demanded money and made serious threats. Peoples Bank in Woodland Park was robbed in the summer of 2015 by an undisclosed suspect who never was caught. Similar to last week’s incident, the previous suspect reportedly may have been linked to other bank heists in the Pikes Peak area.
The Peoples’ incident, however, marked the first time any financial institution in Woodland Park was robbed in recent years. Occasionally, police investigated other cases at financial institutions that usually involved internal theft.
However, police officials have maintained for some time that Woodland Park businesses face these types of potential threats and Woodland Park is not isolated from big-city crime.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” said a Vectra bank official the following day after last week’s robbery attempt, in describing the probability of local financial institutions getting targeted by thieves. The official stated that the security precautions are extremely tight at their bank and others in the area, and that proper protocol was followed precisely during the latest incident. “I don’t know what these people (bank robbers) think. This is a federal offense. Your talking about the FBI getting involved.”
This marked the first time Vectra’s Woodland Park branch was targeted in recent memory.
A business as usual scenario returned to Vectra bank on Friday, with many customers inquiring about the well-being of the staff. No one was hurt during last week’s bank robbery..
Some business operators in the area, though, complained about the lack of information during the robbery attempt. They maintained that if an alleged thief had a weapon, or an employee was threatened, they needed to know about the situation so they can defend their business
According to the Woodland Park Police, the case is now in the hands of the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office.