Christopher Maher

Alice Echo-News Journal

One suspect was killed and three Alice Police officers were injured during a bank robbery at a Wells Fargo branch in Alice Thursday morning.

Alice Police Chief Danny Bueno said today a masked man carrying a rifle entered the Wells Fargo branch at the corner of Flournoy Road and Main Street shortly after 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

The suspect, later identified as Juan Villarreal, 22, of San Diego, reportedly fired a shot while in the bank and pointed the rifle at several customers and bank employees, demanding cash and the keys to a vehicle.

While he was in the bank, a teller with the bank’s drive-through was able to contact police and request help, and a customer was able to use her cell phone to contact the Alice Police Department.

A bank manager gave Villarreal the keys to his tan Cadillac Deville, which Villarreal used to flee the scene.

Officers with the Alice Police Department arrived at the bank shortly after Villarreal drove away, and were able to follow him southbound on Flournoy Road.

Two officers, Sgt. J.R. Resendez and Sgt. Tony Aguilar, driving a department SUV, followed Villarreal as he turned eastbound on Sain Drive, but lost control of their vehicle as Villarreal turned southbound onto County Road 341. Their vehicle left the roadway and struck a ditch, causing neck and back injuries to both officers.

A second police unit, a marked patrol car driven by Officer Daniel Elizondo, pursued Villarreal onto the caliche county road.

According to statements provided to the Alice Police Department, Elizondo was pursuing Villarreal at speeds in excess of 65 miles per hour when Villarreal suddenly stopped his vehicle and reversed, ramming the patrol car and causing the police unit to spin 180 degrees.

Villarreal then allegedly exited his vehicle and approached the patrol car, carrying a .22 caliber rifle.

The door of the patrol car was damaged in the collision, Bueno said, and Elizondo was only able to open the door a few inches. At that point, Villarreal allegedly began firing at Elizondo and was able to get a round through the slightly open door, striking Elizondo on his inner right thigh.

Elizondo was able to return fire through the crack in the door using his M-4 assault rifle, hitting Villarreal multiple times in the upper torso with the rifle’s .223 caliber rounds.

Wounded, Villarreal ran eastbound down the roadway for several yards before entering a brush-covered area off the county road, where he collapsed and was later found dead.

Additional officers, Jim Wells County sheriff’s deputies and Department of Public Safety units surrounded the area, and made contact with a red pickup truck that was leaving County Road 341 near Farm-to-Market Road 665.

Alice Police Sgt. Albert Martinez stopped that vehicle and ordered the driver out at gunpoint. Several home-made gasoline bombs were recovered from the truck and the driver, later identified as John Eric Garcia, 21, of San Diego, was arrested.

Believing that a second suspect was seen in the Cadillac, law enforcement initiated a multi-agency manhunt in the area between County Road 341 and Farm-to-Market 665.

Helicopters with the U.S. Border Patrol and the Department of Public Safety, as well as search dogs from the Texas Department of Corrections, were used in the search.

Other law enforcement agencies from around the area, including SWAT team members from Kingsville and San Patricio County, as well as additional support from the Duval County Sheriff’s Department, the Duval County Attorney’s Office, the 79th District Attorney’s office and the Texas Rangers, were also used in the search.

After more than five hours, the search was called off.

Villarreal was declared dead at the scene by County Judge L. Arnoldo Saenz, and the rifle used in the robbery was found with him.

A bank bag containing nearly $10,000 was also recovered from the stolen vehicle.

Officer Elizondo was transported by ambulance to CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Alice and was later flown by HALO-Flight to CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Memorial in Corpus Christi. He was treated for a single gunshot wound to his right leg and was expected to be released today.

Sgt. Resendez was treated at the Alice hospital and was later released. Sgt. Aguilar was kept in the Alice hospital overnight and was later released.

Garcia has been charged with aggravated robbery and remained in the Jim Wells County jail today on $100,000 bond.

The investigation has revealed that the two robbers reportedly had a plan to use the gasoline bombs to set fire to a gas station on the west side of town to provide a distraction for the robbery. That plan was not carried out, however, Bueno said.

Bueno also thanked all of the law enforcement agencies who assisted in the search, and the Corpus Christi Police Department, which provided assistance for Elizondo’s family members at the Corpus Christi hospital.

He also thanked the community for its support, as local restaurants and individuals brought food and water to the officers who were involved in the search.

“The community came together,” Bueno said. “I’m just proud of the community of Alice for supporting my people.”

Bueno also praised Elizondo, a firearms instructor for the department, for his quick reaction and dedication in stopping the robbery suspect.

“When you hear the call that an officer has been shot, and you don’t know if he’s dead or alive, you immediately think of his family,” Bueno said.

“Officer Elizondo did what was necessary to protect himself and his fellow officers.”