Central Coast Bandit suspect Cristina Padilla needed money to clothe and feed her 11-year-old daughter, and to move out of a dangerous Watsonville apartment complex, she recently told The Tribune in a jailhouse interview.
“We had no money,” Padilla said. “I told the police, ‘If you go and search my apartment, you are not going to find fancy jewelry, new shoes or expensive perfume. All we had was some food in the refrigerator” at the time of her arrest, she said.
Padilla, 50, was apprehended Aug. 23 after an alleged robbery attempt at Golden 1 Credit Union in San Luis Obispo. When a teller sounded the alarm, police said, Padilla fled — driving north on Highway 101, then evading officers on Paso Robles city streets and ramming an occupied civilian car before crashing.
Authorities believe Padilla is responsible for six bank robberies in San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Stanislaus counties since December. She has entered a not guilty plea in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, with bail set at $1 million.
Padilla, a soft-spoken woman with purple-rimmed glasses, declined to comment on the charges against her, but spoke about the disability that she said kept her from earning money in the six years up to her arrest.
“I have been totally disabled for seven to eight years now,” she said.
Padilla said she suffers from degenerative disc disease in the lumbar spine, and has taken high doses of methadone for years to cope with the pain. Methadone was found in her car at the time of her arrest, as were her two small dogs, she said.
Methadone is a narcotic prescribed for pain relief; it can also be prescribed to lessen the effects of withdrawal from drugs, such as heroin.
“I was on medication for pain control, not heroin withdrawal,” Padilla said as she held out her right arm, veins up, to show it was free of needle marks. “I’ve never done heroin.”
Padilla, who declined to explain the accident that caused her back pain, said that the “heavy-duty medication” she was taking kept her from getting and keeping a job as a medical assistant, her former profession.
“I would apply for jobs, but every time I did a drug test, I was disqualified immediately. … I applied for benefits, but they always said I was just not that disabled,” she said. “We only got $18 in food stamps. That’s all we got.”
She said that she was afraid of losing her daughter if people saw that Padilla could not clothe and feed her. “She grows out of her shoes so fast,” Padilla said.
Padilla also worried that her neighborhood was too dangerous for her young daughter to walk in. A man who lived upstairs in Padilla’s apartment complex was recently shot, she said, and Padilla worried that her daughter could be caught in the crossfire of gang violence.
But before they could move, Padilla needed money to fix her car.
When asked if she considered whether continuing to rob banks could put her daughter in danger, Padilla said, “I did think about it.”
Her 11-year-old daughter is now living with Padilla’s other daughter, who is an adult.
The Central Coast Bandit spree helped San Luis Obispo County reach its highest number of bank robberies in a decade — 11 this year so far.
While her case is being handled by the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office, federal prosecutors could take over the case. Or, if prosecutors in other counties agree to it, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office could prosecute her here for all the crimes together.
According to court records, Padilla has a prior burglary conviction from Monterey County. That conviction, from 2005, could count as a prior “strike” felony, leading to enhanced sentencing if she is convicted of the bank robberies.
Padilla said a screenwriter has already approached her to write a movie about her life story.
But Padilla, most of all, wants to find loving homes for her two dogs — a Boston terrier named Missy — “because she’s a lady,” Padilla said — and a Chihuahua named Chico.
They are being held by San Luis Obispo County Animal Services.
“I just want someone to make sure they stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer,” She said. “I hear it gets really hot down here.”