BANK ROBBER GIVES TESTIMONY ON PALS : MAN SAYS FRIENDS PLANNED '93 HEISTS.
They went to Saugus High School together, vacationed in Cancun together, and Darren Towers testified in court Wednesday that they robbed banks together in 1993.
But when the 28-year-old Towers had to choose between life in prison and his buddies Alex Yepes and Brett Pelch, the friendship was no match.
On Wednesday, the one-time auto mechanic took the witness stand in Van Nuys Superior Court and wove a tale of bungled thievery, spending sprees on cars and clothes and then ultimately betrayal among friends.
He told how he helped Yepes, Brett Pelch and Pelch's younger brother Chad Pelch rob banks in Canyon Country and Northridge by kidnapping bank officers, holding them overnight at their homes and then escorting them to the vaults the next morning.
Towers recalled how when FBI agents knocked on his door after the September 1993 heist of Coast Federal Bank in Northridge, he immediately confessed. He pleaded guilty to two robberies and now is serving 15 years in federal prison, having escaped a lifetime behind bars by virtue of his willingness to turn on friends.
``I was just scared,'' Towers sheepishly admitted to the prosecutor, darting his eyes to avert Yepes and the Pelches.
Yepes, 28, Brett Pelch, 28, and Chad Pelch, 26, sat quietly in court, staring intensely at Towers, who was hobbled by leg shackles.
Towers testified how Yepes, a close friend since junior high school, had masterminded the scheme along with his friend Brett Pelch. Towers said he and Chad Pelch were brought in at the last minute.
``I was surprised they were going to do something like that,'' Towers said. ``It was a lot of money to be taking.''
The day before the Canyon Country robbery, the four men - armed with guns and dressed in dark clothes, ski masks and batting gloves - broke into bank officer Toula Demosthenous' home in Santa Clarita, only to be surprised when her children came home from school with several friends.
By the end of that night, they were holding a total of 10 people. ``I just couldn't believe it,'' Towers said. ``It was crazy.''
At one point, Yepes told him the plan ``was never going to work,'' so the foursome left the house to abandon the heist, Towers said.
``But we got about three-quarters of a mile away from the house and Alex said, `What the hell, we are into it this far, we might as well go back,' and we all went back,'' Towers said.
It was not explained during the testimony why the hostages did not call for help when the defendants temporarily left the home.
As morning came, the four changed into business suits in preparation for their visit to the bank, Towers said, his face flushed as Yepes locked eyes on him.
Yepes, Chad Pelch and Towers then drove Demosthenous to TransWorld Bank in Canyon Country and used a walkie-talkie to communicate with Brett Pelch, who was guarding the remaining hostages, Towers continued.
``We used the walkie-talkie right away because it was real cheap and it wouldn't have worked if we were more than a block away from the house,'' Towers said. ``It was just to let her know we were in contact.''
After robbing the TransWorld bank of $110,000, they ended up at Towers' house with the pile of cash. Towers said he was surprised to learn they wouldn't be splitting the money evenly, but he accepted Yepes' explanation that he and Brett should get more because they planned the robbery.
Towers walked away with $10,000. ``But Chad was upset and wanted more money,'' Towers said. ``Brett just told him to shut up, and that he was lucky to get what he got.''
Towers said Brett Pelch then told his younger brother to leave them alone, and the three others whooped it up with their newfound wealth.
Towers told about how he, Yepes and Brett Pelch wildly spent their booty on shopping sprees, trips to Cancun and Las Vegas, cars and nights on the town - all together.
``One guy would buy something, then we would all go, `Oh, I'll get that too,' '' Towers said.
Whether Tower's testimony will be effective is unclear: Since his arrest, he has changed his story several times. And despite Towers' testimony, Yepes was acquitted of federal charges in the two robberies. Yepes contended that cellular telephone records placed him elsewhere during one heist and that he was framed by his friends for the other.
Brett Pelch was charged in February 1994 with bank robbery, but fled and was captured after a nationwide manhunt. His father, Los Angeles police Sgt. Dennis Pelch, was accused of helping Brett while on the lam, and he was reprimanded.
Chad Pelch pleaded guilty to the federal charges and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. A fifth man accused of taking part in the Northridge robbery, Donald Sallee, 28, is still at large.
Wednesday's hearing focused on state charges of robbery and kidnapping. During a break Wednesday, one of the defense attorneys leaned over, looked at Towers and muttered, ``There's the snitch.''
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Feb 6, 1997|
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