Shootout suspects charged with robbery, firing on 3 police officers

BELLINGHAM - Two robbery suspects were charged Tuesday, Aug. 13, with firing shotgun rounds at three Bellingham police officers during a car chase and shootout on Mount Baker Highway.

David Larson, the owner of a Shell station on Meridian Street, had been stocking a cooler in the back when the duo - suspected gunman Pastor Lopez-Franco, 20, and Rafael Martinez-Garcia, 25 - stuck the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun in his face and demanded cash around 4:50 p.m. Aug. 8, according to charging documents filed by Whatcom County Prosecutor David McEachran.

Prosecutors allege Lopez-Franco pumped the gun, ejecting a shell, then made Larson walk across the store to the cash register.

"Is this all the (expletive) money you have?" Lopez-Franco said, still aiming the gun, according to the charges.

In broad daylight, they ran outside to a purplish Honda Accord with distinctive after-market taillights. Minutes later, Sgt. Don Almer of the Bellingham Police Department saw the car headed east through the 2400 block of East Bakerview Road.

Almer pursued the car. He flipped on his patrol car lights and sirens when they hit the highway. By the time the Honda crossed the intersection with Sand Road, its speed had climbed to 70 mph.

According to the charges, driver Lopez-Franco popped out of the side window - leaning his entire torso, down to the belt level, outside - and fired a shot at Almer. The shooter flipped off the sergeant with his left hand. Then Lopez-Franco pumped the rifle, shot again, shook his fist and ducked back into the car, McEachran wrote.

Meanwhile, Martinez-Garcia allegedly gripped the wheel to steer.

Seconds later, the speeding car crashed in a roundabout at East Smith Road. Officers waited for the men to surrender. But Lopez-Franco got out with the shotgun, ducked for cover behind the car and fired twice at Almer and two other Bellingham police officers, David Johnson and Kevin Bean, according to prosecutors.

Police returned fire, seriously wounding Lopez-Garcia. Martinez-Garcia sat in the passenger seat the whole time, his hands in the air.

None of the officers were hurt.

A bullet grazed Martinez-Garcia's arm. He was treated at St. Joseph hospital before being booked into jail. Martinez-Garcia, of Cheney, made his first appearance in court Monday. A Whatcom Court Superior Court commissioner set his bail at $1.5 million, after prosecutors cited a history of drug crimes and child rape.

Lopez-Franco, of Brewster, remained at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, when formal charges were filed.

Both suspects stand accused of first-degree robbery while armed with a firearm, attempting to elude police while armed with a firearm, and four counts of first-degree assault while armed with a firearm.