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Officer wounded in Texas bank robbery

By Mike Baird
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times

ALICE, Texas — It began with a rifle shot into a bank ceiling and a banker giving up his vehicle and $10,000 to avoid bloodshed.

It ended along a dirt road, where a suspect's bullet-riddled body was carried away.

In addition to the death of a San Diego man, Thursday's bank robbery in Alice also resulted in injuries to three Alice police officers as about 100 law enforcement officers descended on the town's outskirts.

Police said Juan Villarreal, 22, and a 20-year-old man walked into a Wells Fargo bank at about 10:30 a.m. Villarreal announced their arrival by discharging a rifle and demanding money and then a car.

"The suspect said to provide him with a vehicle or he would kill somebody," Alice Police Chief Daniel Bueno said. "That's when the banker walked up and said, 'Here, take mine.' "

The suspects, both of San Diego, split up and fled in a pickup and the banker's Cadillac. Alice police, however, had been alerted and caught up with them.

The chase ended minutes later when Villarreal crashed the stolen Cadillac into an Alice police cruiser on a dusty stretch of County Road 341 outside of Alice, and officer Daniel Elizondo got out of his vehicle.

Villarreal drew faster than Elizondo, and shot the officer in the leg. Elizondo still managed to fire several shots and hit Villarreal in the chest, police said.

"The suspect collapsed about 40 feet from the Cadillac," Bueno said. "He died while the second man ran into a brushy area toward a creek bed."

The second man then surrendered, Bueno said. He was arrested on suspicion of aggravated robbery and was being held at Jim Wells County Jail.

Bueno said Elizondo, one of Alice's 36 police officers and a firearms instructor with the department, was in stable condition and would recover from his injuries. Two other Alice officers, Tony Aguilar and J.R. Resendez, received minor injuries in the wreck with Villarreal. The $10,000 was recovered.

About 100 officers from 13 area agencies, including a Corpus Christi SWAT unit and a Department of Public Safety helicopter, responded to the scene. Officers with automatic weapons lined the roadside for hours afterward stationed along a string of mesquite trees, peering into brush.

Authorities searched for a possible third suspect until about 3:30 p.m., but Bueno said authorities concluded the incident only involved two men.

The robbery and shootout left other city officials taking precautions -- with Alice Independent School District's 10 campuses on lockdown by lunchtime, and administrators at Coastal Bend College and Christus Spohn Hospital Alice put on alert.

Alice High School, with 1,421 students, is less than a mile away from the bank, district staff said Thursday. The district lockdown was lifted around 1:30 p.m.

"This is crazy that this would happen in Alice," resident Ovidio Sembrano said, after eating lunch at a restaurant next to the bank. "I've been here 39 years and never thought something like this would happen."

Alice City Manager Albert Uresti was at the scene of the shootout Thursday afternoon with authorities.

"This is the perfect example of different agencies working together," he said. "This is an unfortunate incident, but it shows the citizens that we can respond to dangerous incidents, and we work efficiently with other agencies."

Corpus Christi Police Chief Bryan Smith assigned a peer support officer, Sgt. Denise Pace, to stay with Elizondo and his family.

"He did what he had to do," Bueno said of Elizondo.

Jim Wells County law enforcement officers shot since 1993

February 18, 1997

Sheriffs deputy Dover Choate is shot in the arm with his own gun by a 14-year-old girl. Choate was transporting the girl and two 16-year-old boys to a detention facility in Cotulla when they attempted to escape. The girl shot Choate during the struggle, but the three were re-captured less than two hours later.

September 11, 2000

Sheriffs deputies Rey Aguilar and Paul Pomeroy receive superficial head wounds from a shotgun blast during a standoff with a mentally ill man. DPS trooper Joseph R. Ramos also receives superficial wounds from the pellets.

January 6, 2001

Sheriffs deputy Rey Aguilar and Jim Wells County Precinct 3 constable Jim Long are shot during an eight-hour standoff with a mentally ill man. Aguilar receives wounds in his hand, and Long is shot in the upper chest near his arm. Both men were wearing tactical vests.

May 25, 2007

Sheriffs deputy Mark Martinez is shot in the groin when he and a fellow deputy attempt to pull over a vehicle during a traffic stop. The suspect exited the vehicle and fired on the officers as he fled.

Copyright 2008 The Corpus Christi Caller Times

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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