East End store owners fighting back
Another robbery suspect dies as shop owners turn to deadly force to protect what's theirs
Dec. 19, 2010, 11:38PM
Twice in the past five days, business owners or their relatives have fatally shot robbers on the premises of their shops. Law enforcement officials are stepping up patrols and educational efforts, and owners of neighboring businesses are traumatized and angry.
"There's a lot of reason to be scared," said Guillermo Memo Villarreal, who owns a record shop midway between the scenes of the two recent robbery-shootings on Canal. "In one minute, they can destroy you."
On Saturday morning, police said, a man identified by police as the owner of Shew Food Market, in the 7500 block of Canal, shot a robber who was fleeing, along with an accomplice, after taking a bag containing a substantial sum of money.
Two men later showed up at Ben Taub General Hospital, where one of them, identified by police as Elton Guidry, died. His alleged accomplice, Corey Taylor, 31, was jailed without bail on a charge of robbery with bodily injury.
Just two days earlier, an afternoon robbery at Castillo Jewelry Store — just three miles away, in the 4500 block of Canal — ended in a bloodbath.
Robbers shot the owner, 52-year-old Ramon Castillo, in the abdomen, shoulder and legs, leaving him in critical condition Sunday. Castillo shot and killed the three armed robbers, who had tied up his wife of 30 years.
On Saturday, Villarreal said he worried about the family who owns the store, whom he described as "some of the hardest-working, nicest people" he had ever known.
Neighbors said the grocery store had been owned by a Chinese family for 60 years. A family member declined to comment Sunday.
According to investigators, the owner of Shew Food Market was returning to the store about 11 a.m. with a bag containing a large amount of cash. A vehicle pulled up and a man got out of the car and struck the owner in the head, causing him to fall to the ground. The robber took the bag and ran to the vehicle where another person was waiting. Police said the owner got to his feet and, fearing the man was armed, fired at the vehicle as it drove away.
'We are working people'
Police described the crime as gang-related. Records show Taylor, of the 10400 block of Fairland, has an extensive criminal history in Harris County, including convictions since 1998 for various drug offenses, evading arrest, criminal trespassing and driving without a driver's license.
Villarreal, whose record store has operated on Canal for 42 years, is an active member of civic clubs in the East End — a close-knit, predominantly Hispanic community where outdoor church and family activities were as obvious as burglar bars on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
It's unfair, Villarreal said, that violence forces a life change upon hard-working, taxpaying business owners who sometimes feel deadly force is their only option to protect themselves and their livelihood.
"We are working people. For some 'crazy' to come to try to destroy our lives after we've been working here so many years …," Villarreal said before starting to weep. "We are open seven days a week. We don't have a day off. We have our community. We have our churches. We have our schools. We help each other. It's not right what these people do."
'Fighters and survivors'
His sentiments were echoed by Harris County Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino, who knows the families involved in both recent robberies.
In the wake of the crimes, Trevino's office has stepped up marked and unmarked patrols, as well as communication with business owners in the area.
His office has not noticed a spike in inquiries from the business community after these latest high-profile crimes, Trevino said, but Precinct 6 deputies and Houston police officers have been working with them more closely since robbers shot and killed a store owner and clerk last year.
Officers offer free escorts to the bank, for example, and seminars teach prevention and protection, including how to properly use deadly force.
"These business people are fighters and survivors," Trevino said. "They will fight, do whatever it takes. If it means using deadly force for some of them, it wasn't their choice.
"The one who made the choice are those suspects who robbed them. I think the ones who should be worried are the crooks. You've got to do what you've got to do, to stay alive. This time, the business people got the upper hand."
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