No Early Withdrawal

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
National in-depth television reporting can quickly disseminate important information to the public, but sometimes it can lead to confusion.

That was the case about a month ago, when “NBC Nightly News” aired a segment on the increase in rural bank robberies, said Kurt D. Spachek, president of Pilsen State Bank in Lincolnville.

The Alden State Bank in Plevna and Pilsen State Bank in Lincolnville, each robbed twice within the past year, were mentioned in the broadcast as was the fact that the Plevna bank closed after the robberies.

Spachek said the recent media attention has perplexed customers and area residents who think his bank is closing.

“I think people got a little mixed up on which bank they were talking about,” he said. “I want to reassure everybody that we’re still here, the bank is in operation and will continue to be so.”

In both cases, the perpetrators of the four robberies have not been caught, and cases are still under investigation, Spachek said.

Alden State Bank was robbed Dec. 6 and Feb. 26, and officials announced their doors would close in June. Pilsen State Bank was robbed on Oct. 12 and March 20.

Spachek refuses to be victimized further, he said. He said measures have been taken to secure the bank so it can continue to operate in the northern Marion County town of around 225 residents.

The history of the bank owned by the Spachek family dates back four generations to his grandfather, who owned the Pilsen State Bank in Pilsen.

The local bank in Lincolnville closed during the depression in about 1933, Spachek said. The building sat vacant until 1944, when the townspeople of Lincolnville encouraged his grandfather to move his bank to their community.

The most recent robberies were not the first time the bank has been hit in its lengthy history. When 33-year-old Spachek was 5, the bank was robbed when his father, Robert, was president. The elder Spachek chased the fleeing thieves a short distance to the edge of town.

“He got up to (U.S. Highway) 77 in his 1963 Ford pickup,” Spachek said. “The car had manual transmission. He got a couple of blocks, and he was so shook he couldn’t find the gears and decided it was time to quit.”

Last October, two men entered the Lincolnville bank while Spachek was having lunch in the board room.

“I didn’t know it was happening,” he said.

Employees described two males wearing sunglasses and zip-up sweat jackets with hoods over their heads. One male was believed to be wearing a wig and the other a stocking cap.

They each brandished a gun and left with an undisclosed amount of money. Employees were not physically harmed.

Following that October robbery, the first he had experienced as bank president, Spachek looked on the Internet for video-surveillance equipment.

The bank invested about $1,200 in the equipment and has continued to upgrade it since then.

“That, I don’t complain about,” he said. “It’s like putting a deadbolt on your house-it’s good to have.”

The events of the robbery this past March were recorded on the new surveillance equipment. The original video is in the hands of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

Spachek was standing behind the tellers when a lone white male entered the bank and aimed a gun at the four employees and Spachek.

The robber was dressed much the same way as one of the two robbers in the October theft-he wore a stocking cap, sunglasses and a jacket with a hood.

“Everybody who was involved in the first robbery thought it was the same individual,” Spachek said. “But we can’t confirm that.”

As in the first robbery, the gunman got away with an undisclosed amount of money, and no one was physically hurt.

But this time Spachek jumped into his 1996 Dodge pickup and chased the white four-door Sedan the gunman used as his getaway car.

Unlike his father’s short chase, Spachek followed the vehicle northwest out of town for eight miles at speeds up to 90 mph, but eventually gave up the chase on county dirt roads.

“I had more value on my life then he had on his,” Spachek said. “I lost sight of him and decided it was time to get back.”

Spachek said the two events inevitably increased feelings of paranoia at the bank.

“I have a monitor in my office, after the first robbery, so I can watch the front from back here,” he said.

Last week, Spachek watched as a suspicious looking man make his way across the street toward the bank.

“He was dressed in a jacket, a scruffy-looking ball cap and dark sunglasses,” Spachek said. “It spooked me enough that I went to my door and peeked out to see who was coming in.”

To his relief, Spachek said the individual turned out to be a customer.

Although he said he can’t disclose what other security measures are in place, he said he has warned other banks to invest in surveillance cameras and train their staff how to react during and after a robbery.

The Kansas Banker’s Association sent out an alert after the first Lincolnville robbery, Spachek said. He offered to talk to anyone interested in installing the surveillance equipment he found on the Internet.

“From that, I had four or five banks from across the state call me and ask, ‘Who did you contact, what did you do, and how do I set it up?'”

Spachek and bankers in similar communities are wondering why they are being targeted.

National studies and news reports indicate the thieves may be drawn to small towns surrounded by new and improved highways for fast getaways and police departments with personnel who must cover city and rural areas.

But Spachek has a different theory.

“Just like the co-ops being hit for the anhydrous ammonia, I suspect a lot of it is drug related,” he said.

“It’s not the (depressed) economy either-it’s drugs,” he said.

“Somebody needed the money to buy drugs to turn around and resell them or use themselves. They figure they can get a large sum of money.”

But Spachek pointed out that access to large sums of money-like figures of $100,000 or more-in a bank is blown out of proportion. Most of the cash in a bank is in a timed safe, and employees cannot access it on demand.

“In other words, if you come in and want more than is in the cash drawer-have a seat,” he said. “We’ll get to you in about 15 or 20 minutes when the safe opens. And by the way, the sheriff will be here by then, too.”

Although all customers’ money was protected, and the bank has insurance to cover the money stolen on the two occasions, the institution’s deductibles are high, Spachek said.

“Yes, you’ve got insurance, but you’re still paying out of your own pocket,” he said. “That came out of earnings-it’s gone.”

He said he was encouraged that a KBI agent in charge of the investigation of the past robberies told him no other robberies fitting similar circumstances have been reported in Kansas since March.

“That doesn’t mean we’ve scared him off,” Spachek said. “He may have moved to a different area of the country, he may have changed his M.O. (modus operandi), he may be incarcerated for something else.

“We don’t know. Maybe we did scare him enough that he doesn’t want to try it again.”

Although Spachek has promised his wife he won’t chase any felons in the future, he said he’s doing everything possible to protect his bank.

“We’re going to be here next year just like we were here last year prior to the robberies,” he said.

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