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Old May 24, 2006, 09:06 AM   #5
Harley Quinn
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Last of the series

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How Natomas drama unfolded.

Bus-stop robbery to fatal gunfire
By Crystal Carreon and Christina Jewett -- Bee Staff Writers
Published 12:01 am PDT Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Story appeared on Page A17 of The Bee

Monday's incident at Natomas Marketplace ended with the suspect's bullet-riddled vehicle crashed into a palm tree and the driver dead.
Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

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"When does the bus get here?" The teenage boy recalled a young man asking him at a bus stop about a mile from the Natomas Marketplace on Monday afternoon.
"Ten minutes."

It began simply -- the encounter at the bus stop -- but it soon set in motion a sequence of events that ultimately escalated into a deadly officer-involved shooting before a crowd of shoppers and diners.

On Tuesday, as Sacramento police continued to investigate what seemed to some like a scene out of Hollywood movie, the boy grappled with his brief encounter at Truxel and San Juan roads and his role in the events that followed.

The boy, whose parents asked that his name be withheld out of concerns for his safety, said a young man "with a sad face" sat down next to him on the bench. He then asked about the bus's arrival time. He seemed nervous, the boy said.
The man then pulled up his shirt, revealing a gun.

"He said: 'Give me everything you have on,' " the boy recalled, before turning over his new $170 Air Jordans, his iPod, his shirt, his hat, his watch.

Another man then emerged from a maroon car parked nearby. He demanded the boy's wallet.

The robbers then disappeared as the car drove off.

A report of a burgundy or maroon-colored car sought in an armed robbery was soon broadcast over the police radio.

Sacramento Police Officer Kevin Howland, a five-year veteran with a reputation for catching the bad guys, was in pursuit.

"I believe Howland followed the … car into the Natomas Marketplace," said Sgt. Chris Taylor. "The officers were just keeping their eyes open."

The car then stopped in the parking lot outside Wal-Mart. As Howland approached, the car abruptly rammed the officer's cruiser and lurched forward, throwing Howland onto the hood, according to police.

From there, witnesses said, they saw the officer clinging to the hood with one hand while opening fire with the other.

He was tossed off and later treated in a hospital for a severely bruised leg.

Photographs show eight bullet holes in the windshield.

The car slowed and crashed into a palm tree outside a nearby In-N-Out Burger eatery.

Its driver, 19-year-old Eugene Timothy Gallegos, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Three passengers in the car -- a 16-year-old boy, who was seated next to Gallegos, an 18-year-old woman and 19-year-old Saul Rabago, who were both in the back seat -- were questioned by police.

Rabago, who was initially arrested on suspicion of robbery, is scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon in Sacramento Superior Court. He was being held Tuesday on $25,000 bond.

The woman, whose name was not made public, was released Monday night. Her role in the incident, Taylor said, remained under investigation.

The status of the juvenile, who neighbors said had just been released from a Boys Ranch, was not clear Tuesday night.

Taylor said investigators had found a replica, or realistic-looking, "toy gun" in the car along with items linking the suspect to the robbery, but declined to elaborate.

At the North Sacramento home Gallegos shared with his siblings and grandmother, a steady stream of friends and relatives Tuesday filed through the front door.

Rosie Aldana, who had helped rear her grandson, said she didn't believe he was solely responsible for veering the car into the officer on Monday.

She said he was likely prodded by those in the car to "go, go, go" and succumbed to the pressure.

"That was out of character for him," Aldana said, surrounded by family, "That's why it's so hard to take this."

Late Monday, relatives told Aldana they had seen newscasts of the maroon Chrysler that Gallegos bought three weeks ago now riddled with bullets.

Gina Gallegos, who nicknamed her brother "Chitho" when he was a toddler, said Gallegos had a good heart and took care of the family, but at times kept bad company.

"He hung around with some of the wrong people," she said.

Tuesday afternoon, as the family grieved, Gallegos' father, Eugene T. Gallegos, 40, was arrested on unrelated charges.

Monday night, members of the police gang unit searched Gallegos' home. Family members on Tuesday said he was not a gang member but acknowledged some of his acquaintances were.

Police were continuing to investigate any gang ties among those in the maroon car, and detectives were reviewing surveillance footage while Howland recovered at home.

The officer will be on administrative leave for at least a week.

"He certainly never wanted this to happen," Taylor said.

"He's a very smart guy, and is very passionate about police work," Taylor said of Howland. "I am confident he will be OK; you just need time to process."

On Tuesday night, Marisol Rabago said she planned to see her brother in jail to prepare for his court appearance.

Her brother just turned 19, she said, and recently made a commitment to his family that he would try to change for the better.

"Two weeks ago, he said, 'Give me 25 days,' " Marisol Rabago recalled. "He got a job and was starting to come back to family events, dinners; we started to believe."

But when he got paid Friday, the family said he slipped out of sight. They last saw him Saturday night, before spotting him on the news Monday evening.

"He's not a bad kid," Marisol Rabago said. "He was just at the wrong place, with the wrong people.

"If he was in his right state of mind," she said, "he would not have done the things he was doing."

Across town, at the dining room table of his tidy Natomas home, the boy who was confronted at the bus stop continued to absorb his role in the events that unfolded.

"I was thinking, 'Oh my God, I could have died,' " he said. "I just get scared thinking what could have happened."


About the writer:
The Bee's Crystal Carreon can be reached at (916) 321-1203 or [email protected].
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