‘Chameleon Bandit’ gets 150-years-to-life sentence

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sentence of 150-years-to-life in state prison was handed down June 15 to the “Chameleon Bandit” who was convicted of robbing three banks in El Cajon and two others elsewhere.

Darius Demon Lake, 28, of El Cajon, was ordered to pay $19,091 to all the banks he robbed which included the Mission Federal Credit Union, U.S. Bank, and Bank of the West in El Cajon, in 2017.

sentence of 150-years-to-life in state prison was handed down June 15 to the “Chameleon Bandit” who was convicted of robbing three banks in El Cajon and two others elsewhere.

Darius Demon Lake, 28, of El Cajon, was ordered to pay $19,091 to all the banks he robbed which included the Mission Federal Credit Union, U.S. Bank, and Bank of the West in El Cajon, in 2017.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Robert O’Neill noted that Lake was released from a 5-year federal prison sentence for three bank robberies in August 2017 and began robbing banks again several months later.

Lake was “a poster child” for having the three strike laws, said O’Neill. He received consecutive 25-year sentences for robbing people in five banks.

“His record speaks for itself,” said O’Neill, noting that Lake recorded a cellphone video of himself “grinning at the camera” with stolen money.

Lake was called the “Chameleon Bandit” by law enforcement because of his changing appearance and clothing in different holdups. He yelled profanities at tellers and told them to get down on the floor. 

One of the El Cajon tellers came to court and wrote a letter saying she has had ongoing nightmares and Lake took away her sense of security.

“It was clear several witnesses were traumatized,” said the judge.

Deputy District Attorney Lucille Yturralde said 13 victims testified at his trial, which included a bank customer who was robbed and multiple tellers in the same bank.

Lake’s attorney, Jeremy Thornton, asked the judge to impose a sentence of 28 years and four months. “He will never be a young man out of prison again,” said Thornton.

“I am asking this court for compassion,” said Thornton. “Mercy is a component of justice.”

Thornton said Lake became a father when he was 17-years-old and he dropped out of high school to help care for his son. 

“He found acceptance from people who use drugs…and criminal activity,” said Thornton.

Lake, who was dressed in blue jail clothes, said nothing in court and did not testify in his February trial.

Yturralde said Lake went on a spending spree from money in the robberies and he bought jewelry, champagne and $180 lap dances.

A jury deliberated for more than 9 hours over the course of two days before convicting him of 11 robberies and one attempted robbery in which multiple tellers were held up. The jury acquitted him of two robberies in which the tellers could not identify him as the bandit.

O’Neill gave him credit for 263 days in jail and fined him $10,963. A restitution hearing was set for July 6 in which O’Neill will consider ordering Lake to pay for loss of wages and counseling costs to the victims.

Lake also had assistance from Bryan Barkley, 25, of El Cajon, who pleaded guilty to three robberies at the Mission Federal Credit Union. Barkley was sentenced to 10 years in prison in March and ordered to pay $2,878 in restitution. 

Two charged with attempted murder

Two people from Lakeside were charged with attempted murder in a June 2 incident in which a driver allegedly tried to run a couple down in El Cajon before crashing into a tree.

The driver was David William Dunkel, 38, and his passenger was Michelle Louise Bergen, 29. The incident occurred at 1:19 p.m. in the area of East Madison and North First Street.

El Cajon Police said Bergen saw a woman she knew and assaulted her before getting back into the car. The woman tried to leave the area with her boyfriend, but the driver deliberately drove onto the sidewalk in the 1100 block of East Madison.

The man was struck by the vehicle and both he and his girlfriend were taken to the hospital. Police arrested both Dunkel and Bergen.

They are also accused of assault with a deadly weapon and Bergen is additionally charged with felony assault upon the woman.

An August 1 preliminary hearing was set in El Cajon Superior Court. They both pleaded not guilty and remain in jail on high bail.

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