Local News

Third Arrest Made in Robbery, Fatal Police Chase

Posted November 6, 2007
Updated November 9, 2007

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— A suspect wanted in connection with a robbery in Raleigh and a chase in Durham that ended with a fatal shooting early Tuesday was taken into custody by Raleigh police who surrounded an apartment in the capital city.

Police had been seeking Nelson Rafael "Luciano" Hernandez, 19, of 3301 Lake Woodard Road in Raleigh, since a Durham police officer shot and killed one of four suspects at the end of the chase from a carjacking. Three suspects were arrested at the same time, but Hernandez escaped, police said.

Hernandez was arrested early Tuesday evening at an apartment complex on Fort Sumter Road in Raleigh. He was charged with possession of a stolen motor vehicle, attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon and injury to personal property.

In Durham, police had responded after undercover officers saw an armed robbery at the intersection of North Guthrie Avenue and Holloway Street at about 12:30 a.m. The suspects fled in a 2007 Jeep Commander, and the undercover officers followed while calling for uniformed backup, police said.

Officers chased the vehicle for 10 minutes in eastern Durham before getting on Holloway Street, where one of the Jeep's tires blew out. The vehicle then began traveling the wrong way on Liberty Street.

The Jeep stopped outside the Durham County Main Library, at 300 N. Roxboro St., and the men jumped out. One man pulled out a gun and pointed it at police, according to an account from Durham police.

Officer B.D. Opitz fired in response and wounded the man, later identified as Samuel Reyes Uscanga, 16, of 2814 Kilbourne Drive in Greensboro. Uscanga died at Duke University Hospital.

Opitz was not injured, Chief Jose Lopez Jr. said.

Officers apprehended two teens who had been in the Jeep after a brief chase on foot, police said. Hernandez had been captured and placed in a patrol car, but escaped after kicking out a window, police said.

The Jeep had been taken at gunpoint at about 11:15 p.m. Monday from an apartment complex on Lexington Drive in Raleigh, police said.

Jesus Arce, 16, and Steaphan Ascencio Vasquez, 16, both of Raleigh, were charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, larceny of a stolen vehicle, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon and resisting, delaying and obstructing officers. They also face attempted robbery charges and possession of a stolen vehicle.

Police said Vasquez was driving the Jeep, and they charged him with possession of stolen property and traffic violations.

The victim, Dennis Medley, told Raleigh officers he had gotten out of the Jeep and was walking in the parking lot when several men approached him, stuck a gun in his back while demanding his keys and money and fled in the Jeep.

"It wasn't until we were face-to-face, and I'm like, 'I don't know this person,'" Medley said. "Then, I realized that it was something serious."

Durham police said they connected their case to the Raleigh case after running the Jeep's license plate number.

"As soon as the Durham police ran that vehicle, they knew they could connect it to something here," Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue said.

Opitz, who joined the Durham Police Department in August 2005, was placed on administrative duty with pay, pending the outcome of investigations into the shooting by the State Bureau of Investigation and the Durham Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division and Criminal Investigations Division. The change to administrative duty is standard during an investigation, police noted.

"They will start looking at exactly what happened here and make sure that the statute and also policies were adhered to," Lopez said.

“I want to commend our officers for handling a difficult and dangerous situation with professionalism,” the chief added.