Aspen banks back to normal |

Aspen banks back to normal

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Customers filled Vectra Bank and Wells Fargo Bank on Friday as the Aspen branches re-opened after Wednesday’s bomb scare.

“It was very busy with people that couldn’t do their transactions on Wednesday,” said Tom Griffiths, market president for Vectra Bank, of Friday’s business.

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Bank employees were back at work as well, with black snow outside Wells Fargo as the only sign of Wednesday’s event. When officers detonated one of the bombs, the smoke from the explosion colored the snow nearby.

“I personally didn’t want to come right back to work right after [the bomb scare] happened,” said Wells Fargo Vice President Spencer May. But by Friday, he said, he and his staff were reassured by the fact that no one was hurt and “the fact that we know who he is and he’s not coming back.”

At Vectra bank, Griffiths said his staff would be holding a meeting with a counselor on Monday. The branch is also providing counseling to any employees who want it.

“It’s one of those things that after people think about it, may cause concern,” he said.

For both men, the memory of Wednesday’s events is still clear in their head.

At Wells Fargo, May said James Blanning walked in wearing a black-and-blue hat and huge dark sunglasses. He had left his sled of packages outside, said May, but he brought in one, which he set down. He then handed the pizza box (in which the bank was to put his requested $60,000), along with a demand note, to a bank employee. The employee, who was with a customer, left and came directly to May with the note.

Staff immediately contacted the police and then evacuated the customers, all in less than two minutes, he said.

Asked if he thought the bomb threat was real, May said at the time, he just didn’t know.

“We’re not supposed to wait and wonder,” he said.

At Vectra Bank, Griffiths ” who has the first glass-fronted office on the left” said Blanning walked in, placed a plastic box on the floor, and looked left to right. Griffiths speculated that since his door was closed, Blanning chose the right-hand office of branch manager Lisa Bugner instead.

Blanning went into Bugner’s office, handed her the pizza box and note, and then left.

“All that was probably 20 to 25 seconds,” said Bugner. “We didn’t speak to him. He didn’t speak to us.” Blanning did point to the box on the floor before he left.

Bugner brought the letter immediately to Griffiths, and the two also called the police and evacuated customers, staff and the tenants below them.

“Probably, like most people, my initial reaction was this could very well be a hoax, but we need to do whatever we can do,” Griffiths said.

At both banks, employees reconvened at a previously determined secret location, to make sure everyone was OK. Eyewitnesses were then interviewed by the police, as officers began cordoning off the area around the banks with yellow tape.

Then the waiting began.

Both May and Griffiths said they stayed at the police station for much of the evening, knowing they would have to secure their banks once the bombs were detonated.

By 2 a.m., the bomb outside Vectra bank had been detonated, said Griffiths, and he was given clearance to secure the bank, he said.

May was let back into his bank sometime between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., he said.

Both confirmed that the experience was highly unusual for Aspen. But May noted that bank robberies are not uncommon in urban areas. He personally witnessed five when he worked in Portland, Ore., he said.

As for bomb threats, May said they happen periodically at many banks, but they usually involve a phone call or note left at the bank. Rarely, he said, is an actual package involved.

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