Briar Patch

THE GETAWAY THAT DIDN’T LAST

ON A COOL EVENING IN late spring, Mark Jones and Francisco Perez entered Joseph’s Foodliner, a small market in northwest San Antonio specializing in homemade egg rolls (4 for a dollar) and fresh Chinese snow peas. Young, longhaired, bearded, they had apparently charted an ambitious career in crime, stealing a 1967 Mustang in Glendora, tearing the Jif-E-Mart page from the San Antonio Yellow Pages and pin-pointing small markets on a city map. But they bore little resemblance to Bonnie and Clyde.

Mary Eng was born in Louisiana, once travelled to China, and is now proprietress of the foodliner. Her day nearly done, she looked up to encounter a pistol held by Perez. He demanded her cash-registered money, and she dutifully forked it over, emptying even the change-dispenser. Unfortunately that activated a buzzer which thoroughly spooked Perez.

“Cut that off before I kill you!”

Mrs. Eng cried, “That’s what happens when it’s empty!”

A few feet away, a young couple shopping for ceramics had looked down an aisle and seen Jones holding a gun on three men. Very quietly, they began to ease toward the door, suddenly blocked by Perez, who told them to lie down on the floor.

Jones was having problems of his own. He had encountered linguistic difficulties with a young store employee, Mr. Eng, and a restaurant operator shopping for hamburger. The worker is fluent only in Chinese, and the restaurateur is a Mexican national. Jones kept demanding their wallets, and when the Mexican finally grasped the idea, he protested, “No, no, my passport!”

Mr. Eng somehow slipped away in the confusion, dodging up an aisle just as Perez and Mrs. Eng started toward the back. She saw her husband coming, and called out in Chinese, “Don’t come; we’re being robbed!”

Mr. Eng knew that; he sprinted through the door, yelling for help, followed by Jones and Perez, who had bungled their way to a stash of $1700.

The San Antonio police answered the call almost immediately, prodding two freaked teenagers into Joseph’s at gunpoint. Suspects. Ten blocks away, a 1967 Mustang had run a stop sign in front of a San Antonio patrolman. He turned on his lights, but the Mustang accelerated. The officer chased the Mustang to I.H. 35 before he began to put two and two together.

They careened onto the service road, joined now by another San Antonio unit, and ignored a red light at twice the speed limit, attracting the attention of KENS-TV newsman David Robinson. Cops, robbers, and cameramen entered the freeway at 90 miles an hour, joined quickly by six more police units and San Antonio Express-News reporter Nathan Sherman. At some point, somebody started shooting.

Perez fired through the rear window with enough accuracy to convince officers he had a rifle. One unit took a round in the windshield, spinning out, striking a light pole. The only other known casualties at that point were a freeway motorist who took a slug in his radiator and two ambulances. One struck a semi-trailer; the other blew an engine.

By then a dozen units chased the Mustang at 105 miles an hour. David Robinson aimed his camera, taped the sound, and hung in there; Nathan Sherman dropped back, he says, because he was driving a “six-banger Dodge Dart.”

(A note on Robinson, who appears destined for either an Emmy Award or an early grave: One week later he filmed an almost identical chase from Castroville to Lackland Air Force Base, then two days later, contributed the department’s crack news unit to a seven-car pileup on a San Antonio freeway.)

North they came, San Antonio units strung out for miles, some out of gas; officers from the service-road hamlets of Selma and Live Oak; state police and a couple of interested deputies; and a DPS helicopter, trying to catch up. The eventual number is hard to calculate: Estimates range from 25 to 40. Jones presumably knew he would not traverse the interstate all the way to Oklahoma City, but his thoughts were likely less than ordered. Desperado takes on new meaning with two or three dozen sirens and a helicopter in pursuit.

But you can’t outrun a radio. At three points in New Braunfels, officers were waiting on both shoulders, shielded by their cars. The Mustang cleared the first roadblocks, leaving a state officer with a devastating wound in his hand. Reports quickly circulated that he had somehow shot himself trying to load his shotgun; and just as quickly circulated that Perez had fired the shot. DPS pension planners frown on self-inflicted wounds.

New Braunfels is a peaceful town by Texas standards, and at the third station was a cordial young man who had advanced to the rank of detective without resorting to much violence. But he owns an ARI5 rifle modified (illegally, one might add) to fire automatic. When the call came, he was drinking coffee at a Hungry Hobo on the service road; when the Mustang went by, he emptied a thirty-round magazine into the driver’s door.

That was apparently Jones’ last moment. The Mustang began to swerve wildly, with Perez steering from the back seat. Momentum carried it nearly two miles before it left the road, rolled over, and came to rest near the construction site of the new Canyon High School. The police units came screeching to a halt—literally. A Live Oak unit rammed into the lead San Antonio car.

Two dozen officers then scrambled into position and fired into the Mustang for a minute and a half, shotguns, rifles, whatever they had. The number of rounds expended is a quantum guess, but there were 122 holes in the driver’s door alone, and 24 scars on the face of the new high school. A San Antonio officer then approached the car and fired inside point-blank. He told Sherman, the Express-News reporter, that Perez had survived the barrage with the aid of two suitcases, and raised up to fire. The rest of the officers stood and advanced, cheering.

Inside the Mustang, they found Jones dead, Perez groaning from a slug

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