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ROBBER KILLS TELLER IN `SAFE' THOUSAND OAKS : CAMARILLO WOMAN SHOT IN VICIOUS HEIST.

Byline: Enrique Rivero, Jaxon Van Derbeken and Teresa Jimenez Daily News Staff Writers

Shattering the sense of security in America's safest city, a 39-year-old bank teller was shot to death in the back of head Monday after she surrendered the money to two masked gunmen.

Monica Lynne Leech of Camarillo, a churchgoing mother of two children, was slain after she complied with orders to kneel in the vault of the Western Financial Bank, 2920 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.

The robbers escaped in a white sports utility vehicle in a dramatic getaway in which they hit a car. The gunmen are described as a white man and an African-American man, both in their mid-20s, 170 pounds and 5-feet-11.

``It was just a vicious and cold-blooded killing,'' said Ventura County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Bob Brooks. ``I've been here 23 years and I can't recall anything like this.''

Leech's husband, Floyd, drove to the bank after learning of the shooting. Her children, Andy Mintz, 13, and Stephanie, 10, were consoled by Traci Fenimore, youth pastor of Camarillo Church of the Nazarene.

``As I sat with her kids, they had to talk about not having a mom anymore,'' Fenimore said.

``They said, `Why?'

``I said, `It shouldn't have happened to anyone. We'll never exactly know why.'

``We talked about faith, and we prayed together. We talked about one day being reunited in heaven with their mom again.

``My biggest fear was facing the 13-year-old boy,'' Fenimore said. ``His mom was everything to him, their mom was everything to both of them. He wanted to know why, I couldn't tell him. We just cried.''

A devoted mother

Fenimore said she spoke to Monica Leech on April 22, when she dropped Andy off at a meeting of the church's junior high youth group. The two talked, as they did every week, and Leech said how happy she was with her month-old job at Western Financial. It was closer to home and had better hours than her previous job at an Oxnard bank.

``She was excited about the change,'' Fenimore said. ``She was a dear friend, a wonderful mother.''

Neighbors who knew Leech also talked about her devotion to her children.

``She was a wonderful mother. She cared about the kids, saw to it they came in and did their homework,'' said Lois Walker, who lives near the Leeches' wood-shingle home on Willow View Drive in Camarillo. ``It's so unbelievable. She was such a great person, such a devoted mother. it seems unbelievable that would happen to her.''

Next-door neighbor Eve Geohagan said Leech was ``very concerned about raising her children with manners.''

``They were good people who would greet you,'' Geohagan said. ``I almost think that in this society, in this day and age, something like this hits all of us.''

The robbery

Two masked gunmen entered the bank about 10:20 a.m., and told the four employees that a robbery was in progress, authorities said. There were no customers at the time.

The robbers jumped the counter and cleaned out the tellers' drawers. Then they herded Leech and the two women and man to a room in the back where the vault is located.

Leech was ordered to kneel after handing over the money, then was shot in front of the others, said Gary Auer, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Ventura County, which is investigating.

The men fled in a white Ford Explorer or Jeep, which collided with another vehicle a few blocks from the bank and then sped away. The driver of the car that was hit said the license on the suspect's vehicle started with ``3T,'' officials said.

The gunman who fired the shot is described as white, in his mid-20s, 5-foot-11, 170 pounds with light brown or blond hair. The other robber is African-American, also in his mid-20s, 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, with short black hair and a mustache.

Both wore dark knit caps, long yellow cloth jackets and blue jeans, officials said. And although they wore nylon stockings over their faces during the robbery, the robbers took off their masks as they left the bank, allowing some witnesses to get a glimpse of their faces.

At least one of the other female employees was handcuffed during the holdup, said Frank Lussier, who was on the scene shortly after the shooting.

Victims rescued

Lussier said he and his wife, Mary Alva Anderson, were at Atlas Chiropractic a few doors down from the bank when someone rushed in saying that the bank had just been robbed and someone had been shot.

He followed the chiropractor, Dr. Rick T. Swartzburg, to the bank and saw a woman with her hands cuffed behind her back and Leech lying in the room at the back.

While Swartzburg administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Leech, Lussier unlocked the employee's cuffs with keys to a set of handcuffs he carries with him as a ``security measure,'' he said.

``She was telling me to get out of the bank, she must have thought someoneelse was in there. But we told her we would stay with her,'' said Lussier,55, tears running from behind his dark glasses.

Crime on the move

Thousand Oaks has had 11 bank robberies since January 1996, including four this year.

``Big-city crime comes to Ventura County - we have always had a smattering of bank robberies, but still, not with the violence factor that this had,'' said William Rehder, the FBI's bank coordinator.

Western Financial Bank, with 26 banking offices in California and $3 billion in assets, is a subsidiary of Westcorp, an Irvine-based bank holding company established in 1973.

Donald Kasle, president and chief executive officer of Westcorp, described Leech as ``a valued staff member.''

Kasle said counseling has been provided for employees at the Thousand Oaks branch and any other branches where employees are shaken by the crime.

``You can't help but have an impact in a close-knit organization,'' he said. Kasle said the Thousand Oaks branch would not reopen today and that no decision has been made on when it will.

CAPTION(S):

5 photos, map

PHOTO (1 -- 2 -- color) Above, a Ventura County coroner's team removes the slain teller's body from Western Financial Bank in Thousand Oaks. Teller Monica Leech resided in Camarillo with her husband, Floyd, son, Andy, and daughter, Stephanie.

Andy Holzman/Special to the Daily News

(3 -- color) Employees of the bank branch are escorted from the building after Monday morning's takeover robbery.

Tina Gerson/Daily News

(4 -- color) Chiropractor Rich Swartzburg ran next door to aid the victim.

Andy Holzman/Special to the Daily News

(5 -- color) Monica Lynne Leech

Handed over money
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 29, 1997
Words:1111
Previous Article:A THREAT OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE : STAR PITCHER SHARRON HITTING .382 FOR T.O.
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