LINCOLN – Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Woods commended the heroes that brought the AK-47 Bandit’s crime spree in seven U.S. jurisdictions to an end at a federal hearing Wednesday, where Richard Gathercole was sentenced to 35 years in prison and restitution of $392,392.
She credited the Kansas State Trooper that pursued Gathercole despite gunfire and ultimately forced him to abandon the AK-47 rifle in the car.
Woods: “In terms of Trooper Baker that was his first day on that particular duty on the highways in Kansas. He was presented with a sudden and incredible challenge in that Mr. Gathercole was placed into his path on the highway. He very quickly and very impressively identified issues with that vehicle.
“If he had not identified those issues that day, every indication of evidence is another bank was about to be robbed with a claimed explosive device and an AK47.”
Woods: “He not only spared every individual who would have gone through that and been scarred, but his ability to endure that high-speed car chase while being shot out and sparing civilian lives all around him is truly a heroic feat.”
Woods: “It was really amazing that he had the presence of mind to get through all of that and get Mr. Gathercole to abandon that vehicle with those weapons, because, if he didnt’, we wouldn’t have matched that gun to all these other crimes and we wouldn’t have gotten justice for people in many states across the United States, so he is a hero in his own right.”
The bank robberies include the First Nebraska Bank at Nebraska City in 2014.
She also credited Kansas farmer Andrew Srameck, who encountered Gathercole after he abandoned the car and was eluding the state trooper on foot.
Srameck said he was working out in a field when he saw someone walking down the road.
Srameck: “By all of his actions things were not adding up for a normal stranded motorist or anything. When he didn’t’ even look at me when he went in front of my tractor, I knew something was up.”
Woods said Srameck went out to face Gathercole by himself and lured him away from his home and his family.
Woods: “He was approaching one of the most dangerous men he could have been approaching, but he did that because he didn’t want his family to face Mr. Gathercole. He got into a vehicle willingly with him because he wanted to get him away from his home. And his wife sat back at home wondering if he would come back.”
She said everyday heroes, especially those at the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office in Nebraska, rose to the occasion and ended a terrible crime spree that had gone on for many years.
Woods: “Mr. Gathercole could so easily, so coldly and so selfishly put all of these people through this, lead law enforcement all over the country for years. Terrorize people at banks, do all of that without hesitation and go back out and do it again over and over for years with no signs of remorse.”
When the Kansas farmer reached Gathercole, he pointed a gun and demanded a ride. Srameck drove Gathercole away from his family and then attempted an escape.
Srameck: “After riding with him for two miles I stopped and said I’m done with this. I’m not going any further and got out.”
He said Gathercole searched him and then drove away.
Federal Judge Richard Kopf also credited the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office for the apprehension of Gathercole near McCook.
Kopf: “We bandy the word hero about too much, but in this case, I think it’s apt.”
The restitution includes $14,018 to Chino, Calif., police officer Michael Ford. Ford responded to Gathercole’s first bank robbery and was shot in the leg.
Judge Kopf said the bullet broke his femur and “blew up” his leg, but somehow he was able to drive himself to the hospital.
Woods: “He essentially saved his own life that day for the sake of himself and his family. And his family and his family activities and his enjoyment of his own life and his time with his family are impacted to this day. This crime is something what touch the remainder of his life.”
Srameck said the sentencing was a day of healing for Gathercole’s many victims.
Srameck: “I’m sorry that is happened to you, but hopefully you have gone on with your life and it’s better. I’m glad we got it stopped and everything is taken care so it won’t happen again.”