Suspected robber remains in hospital after surviving shootout on Mount Baker Highway

Suspects also may be charged with attempted murder

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 9, 2013 

meridian robbery

Whatcom County officers talk at the scene where a car crashed during a police pursuit Thursday evening, Aug. 8, on Mount Baker Highway. Two men suspected of robbing a Bellingham gas station at gunpoint then fled police and allegedly fired shotgun rounds at the conclusion of the chase. Both suspects were wounded; no officers were hit.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Two robbery suspects from Eastern Washington survived gunshot wounds in a shootout with police on Mount Baker Highway.

One of those men, however, remained at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Friday evening, Aug. 9.

Police believe the pair - Pastor Alberto Lopez-Franco, 20, of Brewster and Rafael Martinez-Garcia, 25, of Cheney - robbed a Shell gas station on Meridian Street with a sawed-off shotgun at 5:47 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8.

They got away - if only for a half-hour - with a handful of cash after aiming the gun barrel at the head of the convenience store owner.

The robbers fled east to Mount Baker Highway in a purplish Honda Accord with distinctive after-market taillights. A police chase reached speeds of 70-plus mph. The car hardly made it two miles out of town before the driver lost control and crashed in the first curve of the roundabout at East Smith Road.

One robber allegedly got out of the car with the shotgun. He fired multiple rounds directly at the officers, said Sheriff Bill Elfo. Police returned fire.

The sheriff withheld many details about the gunfight - for example, the firearms used by officers and an estimate of how many shots were fired on both ends - because the Washington State Patrol continues to investigate.

No officers were hurt. Troopers recovered the shotgun from the scene.

Lopez-Franco got hit with several rounds. Martinez-Garcia took a bullet to the arm. Ambulances rushed both men to the emergency room at St. Joseph hospital. Martinez-Garcia had been released from the hospital and booked into jail before midnight Thursday.

Lopez-Franco, however, needed advanced medical treatment at Harborview. He refused to consent to the public release of his current condition, said hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg.

He's on the Whatcom County Jail roster in abstensia - meaning he'll be held at a hospital until he's well enough to face charges.

But it's not clear exactly what those charges will be. An official, multi-agency press release labeled the crime "Robbery/Attempted Murder of Police Officers." Elfo said he's reviewing the incident with prosecutors so both men can be charged to the fullest extent of the law.

Martinez-Garcia could stand accused of being a felon in possession of a firearm: He was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl when he was 17, according to Okanogan County court records. He later failed to register as a sex offender, got caught with prescription drugs without a prescription and jumped bail.

His first appearance in court is scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday.

Reach Caleb Hutton at caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-715-2276.

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