Tuesday, February 20, 2018
News Roundup

Suspect in 2010 Hudson bank robbery goes on trial

NEW PORT RICHEY — Wearing a black ski mask and a dark green jacket, and with a black semiautomatic pistol in his hand, the robber pulled open the glass door.

He sprinted to the counter, his gun waving this way and that. A man with white hair ducked. It was about 2:45 in the afternoon at a Wachovia bank at 14048 U.S. 19 in Hudson.

"Everybody get down! Do you want to die? Put the money in the bag or I'll (expletive) kill you," he yelled to the tellers and customers.

In a courtroom Wednesday, 37-year-old Tito Morell, who is already serving a 40-year sentence for a different crime, sat in a suit, charged with the March 16, 2010, bank robbery.

Assistant State Attorney Eva Vergos walked a jury of seven men through the particulars.

Vergos said Morell screamed, "Hundreds! Fifties! Twenties! No dye packs! No bait packs!"

Teller Joan Trancucci had just finished up a large deposit. So large, in fact, that bank policy said she was supposed to mark the money with bands and put it into the vault immediately.

But she heard yelling, and then there was a gun in her face.

"Do you want to die?" she said the robber asked her. "Put the money in the bag."

Trancucci took the robber's plastic Walmart bag with the smiley face on it and stuffed it with bundles of cash.

Rebecca Gamble, at the next window over, crawled over to trip the alarm. It was about a foot and a half away.

Don't move, the robber said, and pointed the gun.

He threw the bag at Gamble next. She filled it. He ran out with $7,889, and it all took less than a minute.

What the robber didn't see was a man named Carl Darnell in a side office. Darnell was with his girlfriend. He covered her with his own body, Vergos said, and later followed the robber out.

He saw the robber get into a red Chevy Cavalier and pull off his ski mask. Darnell called 911.

The robber fled east on State Road 52, and deputies spotted him quickly.

Then, a chase — so fast that when the car sped over some railroad tracks it blew out two tires. The driver slowed down, then stopped on U.S. 41.

Deputies jumped out and shot out his other two tires. But Morell refused to come out, authorities said.

There were SWAT teams and canine units and stranded motorists. Morell threw money out the car window, authorities said

As dusk fell, crews wheeled in floodlights to illuminate the highway.

At 9 p.m., about six hours after the robbery, it finally ended — after Morell smoked a cigarette, authorities said.

"Tito Morell is not guilty," his public defender, Rick Fletcher, told the jury. "He was on a path of self-destruction that day. What ensued was chaos. The perfect storm."

The trial is expected to conclude today.

Morell could face life in prison if convicted.

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