Cops: Luzerne Bank robbers burglarized two houses before heist

By Roger DuPuis - [email protected]
Gerald Paul Pambianco -
State and local police are seen near a Honda that crashed on the North Cross Valley Expressway on Wednesday following an alleged bank robbery and pursuit. - Aimee Dilger | Times Leader
Robbery suspect Derek Lee Spaide stares out the window of a Plains Township police cruiser following his arraignment Wednesday night. - Roger DuPuis | Times Leader

PLAINS TWP. — Fleeing police at 90 mph, Derek Lee Spaide and Gerald Paul Pambianco quickly devised a plan following their alleged armed robbery of a Luzerne Bank branch Wednesday afternoon.

They would divide the stolen cash and try to bring the speeding getaway Honda to a stop near a bridge, according to affidavits filed against the pair. Then they hoped to run from the car and jump over the bridge to evade the law.

Spaide and Pambianco had already tried swapping shoes and covering the maroon Honda’s license plate to conceal their identities, police said. Now, with lights and sirens closing in, their only recourse seemed to be hoofing it.

Like other criminal enterprises Spaide and Pambianco allegedly concocted on Wednesday, their last-ditch escape attempt ended in failure.

The pair were taken into custody following a high-speed highway pursuit and a brief foot chase on the North Cross Valley Expressway. Each faces multiple felony charges that landed them in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility in lieu of $250,000 bail.

Spaide, 26, of South Main Street in Hanover Township, and Pambianco, 29, of Crow Street in Plains Township, were arraigned late Wednesday night before District Judge Michael Dotzel in Wilkes-Barre Township.

Arraignment was the final chapter of a day that police say included two house burglaries, the bank robbery, the wild getaway ride and a final attempt by Spaide to avoid capture by trying to climb inside a woman’s car as he ran from the law along the Cross Valley.

Spaide capped the night with a final defiant performance outside the magistrate’s office, unleashing a torrent of obscenities and anti-gay slurs toward the media as police led him and Pambianco back to a waiting Plains Township police cruiser.

Spaide then lunged unsuccessfully toward a TV cameraman and continued to make obscene gestures through the police car’s rain-streaked window as it carried him and his silent co-defendant away.

Cops: Two burglaries

Investigators said they obtained separate confessions from Pambianco and then Spaide once the men were in custody. They are detailed in the affidavits:

Wednesday started with two house burglaries, both men told Plains Township Officer Robert Kelly and FBI Special Agent Joseph Noone.

The addresses of those homes were not listed in the affidavit, but police said guns, electronics and jewellery were among the items taken.

It wasn’t enough.

“Pambianco and Spaide decided to rob a bank because they did not get any cash during the residential burglaries,” the affidavits state. Their chosen target would be the Luzerne Bank at 1077 Route 315.

They pulled off Route 315 into a nearby restaurant parking lot, got out of the car and hammered out final details: Spaide would rob the bank and Pambianco would drive the car.

Pambianco covered the license plate on the 2009 Honda Accord, and then the men exchanged shoes, “because Spaide believed his white and black sneakers were distinguishable to him.” He donned Pambianco’s tan work boots instead.

“Spaide laced up his boots and tied a shirt around his head to cover his face,” investigators wrote. Then the pair drove to the bank.

Heist, then chase

Carrying a rifle stolen from one of the homes, Spaide entered the bank. The affidavits say he admitted pointing the gun at a teller and threatening to kill her if she didn’t give him money. He left the bank with an undisclosed amount of cash and got into the maroon Honda.

Plains police were dispatched to the bank at 1:10 p.m. to investigate. While there, they learned that Pittston Township police had spotted the suspect vehicle on Interstate 81 North and were trying unsuccessfully to stop it.

With officers in pursuit, the Honda turned around at the roundabout near the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport and headed back south on 81, toward Wilkes-Barre.

As the vehicle exited onto the North Cross Valley, police brought it to a halt near the Red Roof Inn using a “pit” maneuver. Their alleged spree was over less than an hour after police first responded to the bank.

Pambianco was quickly taken into custody, police said, but Spaide clambered out a rear door — after failing to get the sunroof to open, he later told them — and ran off.

A motorist who was stopped in traffic told police Spaide came up to her passenger side front door and tried to get into the vehicle. The woman, whose minor daughter was in the back seat, said she drove ahead so Spaide could not get in.

Police captured Spaide shortly afterward. He was taken to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center after complaining of rib pain.

Investigators said both men were found carrying “large” amounts of cash, but did not say how much.

The charges

Pambianco is charged with robbery, aggravated assault, person not to possess firearms and receiving stolen property, all felonies.

The assault charge stems from Pambianco attempting to strike a marked police vehicle with the Honda during the highway pursuit, investigators said.

Spaide also faces numerous felony charges: robbery, criminal conspiracy, aggravated assault, person not to possess firearms and receiving stolen property.

His aggravated assault charge stems from threatening the bank teller with the rifle, police said.

A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for May 29 before Dotzel.

Neither defendant is a stranger to law enforcement, however.

Court records show Spaide’s history of arrests dates back at least to 2010, and have included charges for burglary, theft and drug possession.

In 2017, he was among nine people charged after police said they discovered drug-filled straws were being passed to inmates, including Spaide, using drug-filled straws being pushed through a hole in the wall at a county prison visitors’ booth.

Pambianco also has a lengthy rap sheet, including two open retail theft cases.

Gerald Paul Pambianco
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_pambianco_mug-2.jpgGerald Paul Pambianco

State and local police are seen near a Honda that crashed on the North Cross Valley Expressway on Wednesday following an alleged bank robbery and pursuit.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_TTL051718robbery3-5.jpgState and local police are seen near a Honda that crashed on the North Cross Valley Expressway on Wednesday following an alleged bank robbery and pursuit. Aimee Dilger | Times Leader

Robbery suspect Derek Lee Spaide stares out the window of a Plains Township police cruiser following his arraignment Wednesday night.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_bars-2.jpgRobbery suspect Derek Lee Spaide stares out the window of a Plains Township police cruiser following his arraignment Wednesday night. Roger DuPuis | Times Leader

By Roger DuPuis

[email protected]