(La Historia del Rio Abajo is produced by the Valencia County Historical Society. If you have ideas for columns, please contact Richard Melzer, editor of the series, at 925-8600.)
Sept. 22, 1979, started out as an ordinary day for 23-year-old Belen police officer Danny Hawkes. It was Saturday, the weather was still warm, and Hawkes was off duty. He had nevertheless gone to the police station to finish some routine paperwork and take his police car to Caldwell Motors for needed repairs.
Assistant Police Chief Ernest Montaño accompanied Hawkes to Caldwell’s on North Main Street so that Montaño could give his fellow police officer a ride back to the station once he dropped off his car. Shortly after 1 p.m., Hawkes was talking to a mechanic at the garage when a call suddenly came over the police radio. A robbery was in progress at Trembly’s Jewelry Store on South Main.
Frank Cruz, his 27-year-old girlfriend Lorraine Martinez and a 16-year-old juvenile had just stolen $100,000 worth of merchandise and $700 in cash from Trembly’s. After taping the wrists of storeowners Marvin and Jeff Trembly, employee Stephanie Pino and two customers, the robbers had fled through the business’s back door.
The three thieves ran south down the alley behind the Pizza Hut restaurant. Meanwhile, Marvin Trembly ran south on Main Street parallel to the robbers’ flight. He yelled for a passerby to stop Martinez, who struggled with the heavy bag of loot.
As soon as officers Montaño and Hawkes heard the police dispatcher’s message, they jumped into Montaño’s patrol car and raced south towards Trembly’s. As they sped away, Hawkes, in civilian clothes and without a gun, asked Montaño if he had an extra weapon. Montaño pointed to the glove compartment and a five-shot .38 caliber revolver stored there. Hawkes took out the small pistol, wishing that he had a larger weapon with which to face the dangerous situation that lay ahead.
Approaching the crime scene, Hawkes could hear people on the street yelling that the robbers were running behind Steve’s Lounge towards the Santa Fe Railroad’s lodging quarters on South main. Hawkes bolted out of the car and hit the ground running, chasing the fleeing thieves behind Steve’s Lounge. He called to the robbers to stop and fired a warning shot in the air. Driving ahead, Montaño attempted to cut the robbers off at a parking lot further south.
Hawkes quickly caught up to Lorraine Martinez who was still struggling with the heavy bag of stolen goods. Running hard, Hawkes did not see Frank Cruz as he hid behind a nearby car, armed with a gun. Tackling Martinez, Hawkes slammed her to the ground.
But, as Hawkes subdued the female suspect, he heard a gruff voice that made the hair on the back of his neck rise. Behind him, Cruz declared, “I am going to blow your head off if you don’t let her go.”
Wheeling without hesitation and seeing Cruz’s gun pointed straight at him, Hawkes shot his would-be assassin in the head. Cruz fell, dying instantly. Arriving at the scene, Montaño handcuffed Martinez. Hawkes took off in pursuit of the juvenile, who was also armed.
Hawkes soon cornered the teenager. The hammer on the policeman’s gun was cocked and ready for use again if necessary. Remaining calm, Hawkes told the kid to put his gun down. Aware of what had just happened to Cruz, the juvenile knew that Hawkes meant business. The boy dropped his gun and surrendered, much to the police officer’s relief. Hawkes had had no desire to kill Cruz, no less a youngster, in the line of duty.
When the situation settled down, Hawkes did his own crime scene investigation, questioning witnesses to the robbery and the pursuit. A background check showed that Frank Cruz was a felon from Albuquerque with a long arrest record. His attempted robbery was the second such crime at the jewelry store in two months. The Tremblys suspected that Cruz had heard about the first successful robbery and thought he’d try his luck at the same location. While the first robbers acted like pros, Cruz and his band seemed like amateurs.
Within a week of the robbery, District Attorney Tom Esquibel announced that Frank Cruz’s death was a justifiable homicide. An editorial in the News-Bulletin suggested that Hawkes should receive a commendation and “the congratulations of the entire community” for his brave, off-duty deed.
Lorraine Martinez was found guilty for her part in the crime and served several years in prison. The juvenile was killed a few years later in what was thought to be a gang-related murder.
But the Sept. 22 incident still troubled Danny Hawkes. Nightmares haunted him at night and into his waking hours. It was the same haunting feeling that a soldier experiences when he still sees the eyes of the men he has killed in combat.
Despite his personal troubles, Hawkes’s professional career seemed to benefit from the violent incident of 1979. People in law enforcement took notice of this brave young police officer. Lawrence Romero, running as a Republican candidate for county sheriff, asked Hawkes to be his undersheriff. Hawkes jumped at the chance to serve with Romero, whom he admired and respected greatly.
When Romero’s term was about to end in 1984, he encouraged Hawkes to run for his office. Hawkes threw his hat into the political ring and ran as a Republican. He defeated his Democrat-ic rival, although Democrats outnumbered Republicans two to one in the county.
… Eventually, Hawkes decided to resign as sheriff and join the Air National Guard. His decision was based primarily on his desire to serve his country.
This was the beginning of what Hawkes describes as the hurting time of his life. After returning from active duty in the Guard, Hawkes was at a loss as to what to do next. All he knew was that he wanted to serve the public.
And so Hawkes put his gunbelt back on and started over as a patrolman. Those were rough years for Hawkes, as he worked for law enforcement agencies from Bosque Farms to Socorro. He also sold cars to make ends meet.
But things began to improve. Hawkes went back to work for Lawrence Romero when Romero served as Belen’s police chief. … And while serving later in the Socorro police department, Hawkes rose to the rank of captain.
Moving back to Valencia County, Hawkes felt a desire to serve the public in a new way. He ran for the Los Lunas Board of Education in a non-partisan election. His goal was to help youth by improving the quality of education in the Los Lunas community. He won with 56 percent of the vote.
It was in the spirit of public service that Hawkes later sought the job of magistrate in Belen. He felt that Judge Gillie Sanchez had always been fair and just, and he hoped to follow in the long-serving magistrate’s tradition. Campaigning hard, Hawkes rang doorbells, shook hands and spoke out on the issues. When the votes were tallied, Hawkes had won by 806 votes.
Hawkes’s life improved in other ways as well. The producer of “Top Cops,” a nationally syndicated television series dedicated to the heroic exploits of lawmen nationwide, learned the story of Hawkes’ fortitude in foiling the Trembly store robbers. The producer thought the incident would make an excellent story for his series. He contacted Hawkes, who agreed to appear on the show with an actor portraying him in a dramatic reenactment of the 1979 crime.
Hawkes also remarried, had two more children (for a total of five), and become involved in the child foster care program.
In 1998, the Air National Guard sent Hawkes to Kuwait for a short period of active duty. Returning home safely, he was appointed to serve in the Magistrate Judges Association. Later, the New Mexico Supreme Court appointed him to serve on the state’s Judicial Rules Committee. Hawkes currently serves in the reserves and is running unopposed in the general election for another term as magistrate.
When asked why he has worked as a public servant throughout his life, Hawkes’ reply is simple: “I find it very gratifying to serve the public, and I want to continue to serve the people of Valencia County.”
A grateful public appreciates his unselfish, brave dedication, dating back to a warm but violent Saturday afternoon in September, 1979.
(Editor’s note: Jim Boeck has a master’s degree in history from New Mexico Highlands University and a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of New Mexico.)
HISTORIA DEL RIO ABAJO