The big moon shone down on a cold and clear Anderson Valley last Thursday night to choruses of barking dogs and yipping coyotes celebrating the lunar clarity.
About 10:30, just after Deputy Squires had gone off duty, four men at Guerrero's Tire Shop in downtown Boonville were knocking down a few beers around a barbecue. It was a little late for dinner, but the four men at Guerrero's lingered. They seemed to be waiting for someone, but probably not the someones who appeared.
These unwelcome someones were three young black men who rushed in through the back door waving handguns. The trio of intruders ordered the four men to get face down on the grimy floor of the garage.
Gustavo Alvarado, 25, of Philo and Carlos Guerrero, 45, of Boonville, didn't hit the floor fast enough, and one of the black men whomped Alvarado and Guerrero over the head with his weapon to speed them all the way into the prone position.
The other two men already on the floor were Alex Arguelles-Renteria, 23, of Philo, and Fernando Ferreyra, 32, of Boonville.
As the robbers rifled the pockets of their hostages they threatened to kill the four men if they so much as twitched. There was a lot of "Mothafuggin" this and "Mothafuggin" that, as the men on the floor wondered if they were going to die.
The bandits scooped up cell phones, some groovy guy jewelry, car keys, and a wallet containing $3,000 in cash, which is a fat wallet indeed by Boonville standards.
Oh, and 18 pounds of processed marijuana, first reported by the victims as two pounds of bud.
The robbers then sped off south in what the cops say was a "burgundy sedan."
And the four victims sped three-quarters of a mile northwest to Deputy Squires' house.
The deputy answered the frantic knock on his front door in his pajamas.
"They were scared all right," the deputy said Monday with a chuckle. "I know these guys. They said to me, 'Help us, Keith.' I'd just come in off duty. All the crooks know my hours better than I do, but even the crooks shouldn't get guns pointed at them. So, I called this thing in and put my uniform back on. We could probably intercept these three guys at Cloverdale when they came through there."
The deputy was clearly amused at the irony of the four local guys assumed to be in the dope business getting robbed.
And the venue? The tire shop is assumed to be more in the pot business than the tire business.
The bad boys would have been halfway to Cloverdale by the time Deputy Squires called them in, careening southward toward their home base in Oakland.
This time of year lots of bandidos flee south with purloined loads of the love drug, but this year is also a bad year for the dope business. So many people are growing that the market is down, way down. Lots of growers are still sitting on last year's crop, and now they're sitting on this year's production as prices plummet to around $800 a pound if you can find a buyer.
Of course stolen dope is all profit.
A cop was waiting on Highway 101 at Cloverdale, the usual interdiction point for dope marauders heading south from all points Mendo.
But the burgundy sedan whipped past the waiting cop at a speed estimated to be more than a hundred miles an hour. And the headlights on the burgundy sedan were off, not that the vehicle was invisible in the bright light of the big moon.
The three robbers were blasting south straight down 101.
The burgundy sedan with its headlights off proceeded to elude the police of three downstream jurisdictions — the Cloverdale Police Department; the Healdsburg Police Department; and the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office. The sedan’s big engine was too much for the pursuing police cars, a burgundy bullet hurtling through wine country in the bright light of a full moon.
At Windsor, still undetected, the robbers called a cousin, a student at Santa Rosa Junior College. They needed to abandon the burgundy sedan. The police of four jurisdictions were looking for it. The bandits knew they might make it past the rural police forces, but there are lots more cops beginning right at the Marin County line. They needed a ride in a fresh escape vehicle, a vehicle the cops, still on the lookout for the burgundy sedan, wouldn't recognize.
The robbers got on a cell to Cuz.
After a hurried Google-consultation with Cuz, the thieves and Cuz decided on Windsor High School as their rendezvous site.
"Drops the books and come get us, Cuz. Drive by Windsor High School with your lights off. We'll be waiting for you."
Cuz, being family oriented, soon appeared.
The three mopes piled into Cuz's rescue vehicle, and Cuz and his three passengers took off "at a high rate of speed."
With the headlights off.
These guys seemed to think they're invisible in the dark.
Cuz's vehicle was soon stopped on Highway 101 by police who wondered at the southbound vehicle driving dark.
Three of the men in Cuz's unilluminated wheels not only looked like the suspects in the Boonville robbery, one of the suspects just happened to have the keys to the burgundy sedan in his pocket. The cops had already located the burgundy sedan at Windsor High School, and when they opened its locked doors with the suspect's key there were 18 pounds of Boonville bud.
The Boonville victims had told a skeptical Deputy Squires that they'd been robbed of only two pounds, but Sonoma County deputies had retrieved "18 pounds of processed marijuana packaged in approximately 1-pound bags."
We can assume that the 18 pounds of bud were contained in 18 turkey bags like the ones advertised on billboards in Ukiah where more turkey bags but fewer turkeys are sold than in any other town in America.
Garrett Alexander Bonner, 18, of Alameda; Shawn Delmore Ford Jr., 23, of Oakland; and Leon Samuel Patterson, 23, Oakland, were taken into custody.
Ford and Patterson were found to be on active parole from state prison.
Cuz was determined not to have been involved in the Boonville job and was sent home to resume his studies.
The trio of East Bay men were driven to Ukiah and booked into the Mendocino County Jail on suspicion of robbery. Bail for each was set at $150,000.
Meanwhile, back in Boonville, Guerrero's Tire Shop is quiet, but neighbors and representatives of the Sheriff's Department say it has long been engaged more in off-the-books enterprise.
Juan Guerrero, who first owned the former service station, was arrested several years ago in Indiana with a U-Haul full of NorCal bud. He remains in prison.
"We've been watching that place for years," said a County cop. "It's no secret what goes on there. We're pretty sure they knew at least one of these guys who robbed them. We think the robbers were invited up here to buy dope and decided to take it from the Mexicans rather than pay for it. One of the Boonville victims admitted he'd sold pot to Oakland thugs before."
There hasn't been an armed robbery in the Anderson Valley in some time, a reported armed robbery anyway. There are always rumors of home invasions and assorted episodes of late-night gun mayhem, but nothing lately that has been reported to the police.
Anderson Valley's two resident deputies, Keith Squires and Craig Walker, are concerned that recent Sheriff's Department budget cuts will result in more local crime. As Deputy Walker expressed it recently, "We're not patrolling anymore. There are people who think they can do pretty much anything they want. I hope they're not right. It's very aggravating to me personally not to be able to stay on top of things. We like to think that we were keeping a lid on drug activities, but with these cutbacks it's pretty obvious we can't keep that up. This thing last Thursday could have been a lot worse."
The deputies agree that the local boys got in over their heads. As Deputy Walker put it, "Some of these kids think they're pretty tough, but they're not so tough when they meet real tough guys. All of a sudden they're swimming in a much bigger pond and the piranha get them."
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