Rash of robberies
Cousins held as suspects in seven-robbery spree
Vivek Pathak knew something was wrong the moment he saw a masked and hooded man approaching the front door of Reliance Gas’ mini mart after 11 p.m. on Jan. 3, as he was readying the store for its midnight closure.
Pathak, who generally greets customers with a cheerful hello and knows many of the store’s regulars by first name, retreated behind the counter to be near the silent alarm, and began asking the man to “open his scarf” as soon as he came through the door.
Rather than comply, Pathak said, the man drew a handgun and leveled it at him.
“I said, ‘Please, don’t shoot me,’” recalled Pathak, who said he is still upset and has had trouble sleeping a week after the incident. “‘Take whatever you want, but please don’t shoot me.’
“You never know, some people are crazy and shoot you even after you give them the money, so I was afraid for my life,” Pathak said. “I was thinking, who would take care of my family and everything?”
The man left the store at East First and Mangrove avenues after pocketing an estimated $295 from the store’s register. Pathak, who managed to press the silent alarm during the robbery, called the Chico Police Department as soon as the robber left. He said he wasn’t able to give police a very thorough description, other than that the assailant was Hispanic and wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt.
By then, Pathak’s account was one that authorities had become accustomed to hearing. The robbery was the fifth such crime reported since Dec. 14, when Butte County Sheriff’s Office deputies and CPD officers responded to a robbery at Tower Mart on West East Avenue carried out by a man brandishing a gun and demanding money while wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans and a hockey mask.
On Dec. 18, the Valero gas station at West First and Walnut streets was robbed at around 4:20 p.m. Subsequent robberies of Anthony’s Liquor on The Esplanade at 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 31 and the Subway restaurant on West Sacramento Avenue the morning of Jan. 2 resulted in similar descriptions of a hooded, sometimes masked Hispanic or white male standing about 5 feet 8 inches tall. In each robbery, the assailant brandished or alluded to carrying a handgun.
The crime spree peaked—and authorities finally got a break—on Jan. 7, when two stores were robbed in less than three hours. First, Jackpot Food Mart on West Sixth Street was hit at 7:20 p.m., followed by the Tower Mart on East Lassen Avenue at 9:46 p.m. An officer saw a vehicle leaving the area of the latter robbery, made an enforcement stop and officers arrested two suspects, Joshua Gomez, 24, and his cousin Lissette Gomez, 20, both of Orland. Though initially arrested for just the Jan. 7 thefts, they have since been charged in all of the robberies, with Lissette Gomez allegedly serving as the getaway driver.
“We had reason to believe the previous crimes were related, and after the arrests were made, we went back and viewed all of the surveillance videos,” said CPD Sgt. Matt Madden, who noted his department worked in conjunction with the BCSO to investigate the crimes. “There’s some evidence there that made us believe [Joshua Gomez] was responsible for all of those listed cases, and we’ve since contacted the District Attorney’s Office to charge the pair with all of the robberies.”
Madden said a “simulated firearm” was found in Lissette Gomez’s vehicle; more evidence was gathered Jan. 8, when the BCSO and Orland Police Department conducted a search of the Gomez home in Orland.
Lissette Gomez’s name is listed on the 2013-2014 Butte College women’s basketball roster. Madden said items found in her vehicle indicate that she is or was associated with the team.
Yet another armed robbery has occurred since the cousins, who remain in custody, were arrested. On Sunday morning (Jan. 12), a male suspect dressed in a black hooded sweatshirt, sunglasses and wearing a scarf over his face walked up to the drive-thru window at the Dutch Bros. Coffee on The Esplanade and demanded money, wielding what he claimed was a weapon wrapped in a towel in his left hand. The suspect was last seen walking south in a nearby alleyway.
Madden advised that victims in a robbery situation do as Pathak did and cooperate with the assailant.
“Nothing of monetary value is worth getting hurt over,” he said. “You never know what the suspects’ true intentions, their mindset or their level of criminal background could be.”