“River Rat” getaway driver gets 18 years again

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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The getaway driver for an alleged serial bank robber known as the “River Rat” was sentenced Thursday in Clark County Superior Court to 18 years in prison.

It was the second sentence for Travis Lee Oles this month. On May 12, he was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Portland to 18 years in connection to a chain of bank robberies in Portland.

He will serve the Clark County sentence at the same time as he serves the federal punishment, so that the amount doesn’t exceed 18 years in prison.

Oles, 36, a pizza shop owner from Portland, pleaded guilty before Clark County Judge Diane Woolard to five counts of first-degree robbery relating to the Vancouver heists at Advance America Cash Advance on Aug. 10 and 25 and Sept. 15, 2009; an Aug. 11, 2009, robbery at Key Bank; and a Sept. 24, 2009, holdup at Chase Bank.

Oles’ attorney, Todd Pascoe, said his client had no criminal history until he got caught up in committing the robberies with his friend and codefendant, Alexey Perez Hernandez. Oles admitted to planning the robberies and serving as Perez Hernandez’s getaway driver.

“In two months, he threw that all away,” Pascoe said. “How did he get here? Drugs and debt.”

Contingent on his plea agreement is the requirement that Oles testify against Perez Hernandez at trial, said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Alan Harvey.

Perez Hernandez of Bonney Lake is alleged to be the “River Rat,” a nickname bestowed by FBI agents for his penchant of striking on both sides of the Columbia River. Perez Hernandez allegedly committed 18 armed robberies in Washington and Oregon over two months in late 2009 before his arrest on Oct. 9, 2009, in the Puget Sound area.

Perez Hernandez, 32, is scheduled to go to trial in Clark County Superior Court on July 25.

After hearing Oles tearfully apologize to the victims of the robberies as well as his family, the judge addressed the defendant.

“Mr. Oles, whatever on earth were you thinking?,” Woolard asked.

“I don’t know,” Oles said, wiping his eyes.

“You didn’t do it just once, but several” times, the judge said.

Woolard accepted Harvey’s recommendation for the sentence to be served concurrently to his federal sentence. She said she favored the drug and alcohol treatment that he was ordered to undergo in federal prison.

The judge also ordered Oles to pay $19,181 in restitution; if Perez-Hernandez is convicted, the two of them collectively will pay that amount.

In explaining the robberies, Pascoe conceded that Oles traumatized several innocent people in the community.

“He’s paying the price for that,” Pascoe said. “I believe he has learned his lesson.”

Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; Twitter: Col_Courts.