An Albuquerque man was arrested and charged with three separate burglaries Sunday night while another man is still being sought by police.
Ruben Garcia Jr., 21, was arrested by Belen Police Officer Todd James after two men were seen breaking into several classrooms at Rio Grande Elementary School.
The officer was dispatched to the school at 6:30 p.m. in reference to a report that two people had been seen inside the school. Belen Police Chief Paul Skotchdopole said, when James arrived on scene, a witness described the men whom he had reportedly seen leaving the building.
“The witness said he saw two individuals; one wearing brown khaki pants and a white T-shirt and the other was wearing black shorts and a white tank top,” Skotchdopole said. “The witness told the officer he had last seen the two suspects walking down a ditchbank on Orchard Place.”
With the description of the suspects, James walked down the ditchbank looking for signs of the two men. He reportedly spoke with a neighbor who told him they had seen two men, matching the description, walking in the area.
“A short time later, the officer saw two men matching the description walking towards him,” Skotchdopole said. “Officer James called out to them, but they turned around, ran and a short foot chase ensued.”
James arrested Garcia near Jarales and Marquez Road, but the other man eluded the officer, the police chief said.
Upon further investigation, the officer found someone had entered the school through a classroom window. Skotchdopole said the intruduers were able to enter three additional classrooms by smashing windows with a fire extinguisher.
“Once inside, (someone) … pried opened desks and tried to take a Polaroid camera,” Skotchdopole said.
Garcia has also been arrested and charged by the Valencia County Sheriff’s Department in connection with two other burglaries in the Rio Communities area that occurred about an hour earlier. Detective Rene Rivera said he had learned of similarities between the school burglary and two other cases he had been investigating.
“We had got a call to the Bank of Belen in Rio Communities after an alarm went off,” Rivera said. “When Deputy Jeff Noah arrived on scene, he found the door had been opened.”
When Rivera arrived at the local bank, he found intruders had made their way into the bank through the roof. Once inside, the burglars pried opened two coin safes located at the tellers’ stations.
“At this point, we don’t know how much money was taken,” Rivera said. “An unknown amount of money was recovered at the scene. We found change in a trash can inside the bank.”
Rivera said he believes intruders were inside the bank when Deputy Noah arrived on scene. He said whoever was there fled the bank when they realized the deputy had arrived.
After processing the scene at the bank, Rivera and Noah went to the Valley Improvement Association offices where another burglary had occurred.
“We believe that … (someone) broke into the VIA offices first,” Rivera said. “They went in and ransacked and burglarized numerous offices. We’re not sure what they took or how much they took — we’re still trying to determine the amount.”
Rivera said he believes the intruders entered the offices by breaking the large front glass door window.
While Rivera was trying to identify the intruders Monday afternoon from the surveillance videotape from the bank, he learned about the burglary arrest at the local elementary school. After speaking to Officer James and comparing descriptions of the suspects, Rivera said he realized there might be a connection.
Garcia, who was still in custody from the earlier charges, was questioned by Rivera Tuesday.
The Albuquerque man is charged with burglary, criminal damage to property and evading and resisting arrest in the Belen case.
Both law enforcement offices are still looking for a second suspect in the case.
If anyone has any information on the burglaries ,contact Belen Detective Nephy Valdez at 864-6288 and Detective Rene Rivera at 866-2405.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.