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Three arrested in bank lot robbery
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Ceres police have arrested three persons in connection with the brazen Aug. 20 daytime robbery of a business customer at Wells Fargo Bank in downtown Ceres.

Connie Spence, 46, and her son, Donnie Spence, 19, were apprehended Saturday at the Ramada Inn on Orangeburg Avenue in Modesto. Marco Eskel, 18, identified as the one who committed the actual robbery, was also arrested.

Connie Spence and Eskel were each charged with robbery and conspiracy to commit a crime while Donnie Spence was charged with conspiracy to commit a crime as well as being an accessory to a crime.

Connie Spence is a former employee of Ceres Drug Store, which was the victim in the crime. Sgt. Pat Sullivan of the Ceres Police Department's Street Crimes Unit said Spence masterminded the robbery as she was familiar with the routine of the company's deposits.

"They agreed with us that they were not very good at being criminals," said Sgt. Sullivan. "They knew their (personalized) license plate had been seen and it would be a matter of time before we found them."

The trio had been on the run for 12 days, avoiding home in Ceres by staying in pricy hotels in the Bay Area and Modesto, said Sullivan. The three ran up a $1,200 tab for room service at the Doubletree Inn in Modesto and skipped out, he said. They also spent time staying at the Hilton in San Francisco and at a hotel in Belmont.

Money taken in the robbery was spent on hotels and drugs, said Sullivan.

The van used as the robbery get away vehicle was in the motel parking lot at the time of the arrest. From the outset of the investigation police were issued a detailed description of the van used in the 10:28 a.m. robbery. A security guard posted at the bank witnessed the robbery and chased Eskel to a blue 2003 Mazda MPV van with tinted windows and a personalized California license number of MADDSIS as it drove off. The van, which was parked and waiting on Third Street, is registered to Connie Spence.

The robbery occurred when a female employee of Ceres Drugs was accosted as she was walking across the lot to the bank next door when a thin white male who was about 17 years of age, knocked her down and wrestled the company purse away from her. Seconds prior she passed Eskel and an unknown female on foot. The employee said "hi" to the female who answered back with a "hi." As the employee kept walking toward the bank door the victim heard someone rushing her and was then knocked to the ground by the male. Without saying a word, the suspect wrestled the purse away from the woman and ran to the awaiting van. The purse contained a large amount of money.

Police have not identified the female who said "hi" to the victim.

Ted Smernes, owner of Ceres Drugs, said he fired Spence in March after attendance and job performance became an issue.

Police do not believe the trio were involved in a similar robbery staged July 26 outside the same bank. In that case a female employee from a pizza restaurant was in the process of making a company deposit and was knocked to the ground for the cash she was carrying. The 24-year-old woman had just got out of her car with her purse and the company's deposits when a man rushed her and grabbed her purse. The victim wouldn't let go and she went down with the robber onto the asphalt in a struggle. The suspect, who was yelling obscenities at the woman, managed to free the purse from the woman's grasp and ran to an awaiting gray sports car with a partial California license plate of 4Y2. Witnesses said the getaway car was parked facing westbound in the alley.

Taken in the July 26 strong arm robbery was the pizza money and $400 of the woman's own money. The suspect was described as a Latino male aged 18 to 20, wearing a baseball hat, light colored shirt and shoulder-length dark brown hair.

Lt. Smith said bank patrons should always be aware of their surroundings near a bank, looking for anyone who is suspiciously sitting in a vehicle or standing around.