Melrose mayor: Robbery handled well

From left, Juana Griego, Marcos Maestas, Patrick Quintana and Santos Preciado.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

For a village without a police department, Melrose’s mayor said things went considerably well after Monday’s bank robbery.

When a robbery at American Heritage Bank was reported just after 9 a.m., a sheriff’s deputy in the area responded immediately, Undersheriff Wesley Waller said Tuesday.

The deputy pursued the four fleeing suspects and helped take them into custody when they were stopped at a state police roadblock on NM 209, Waller said.

Marcos Maestas, 20, Patrick Quintana, 25, Juana Griego, 19, and Santos Preciado, 18, all of Tucumcari, were arrested without incident at the road block.

All four — who police say robbed the bank of an undisclosed amount of money using a pellet gun, a machete and a baseball bat — face felony charges of armed robbery, conspiracy and tampering with evidence.

Waller declined to disclose how much money was taken in the robbery.

“Cash was recovered, however we’re waiting on an audit by the bank to determine if it’s all accounted for,” Waller said. “The FBI is aware of this robbery but is not participating with the investigation. The Curry County Sheriff’s Office is the investigative agency.”

Bank Chief Executive Officer Gordon Morris started following the suspects and was relaying dispatch directions by using his cell phone.

“As soon as the deputy was notified that the employee was following, the deputy began taking the same route,” Waller said.

Waller said the suspects gave no indication they were aware of whether or not there were police in Melrose and the crime was more or less spontaneous.

“They picked Melrose,” Waller said, “because they were passing through on their way to Tucumcari.”

Morris wouldn’t reveal the amount taken, but said it was marked money the bank keeps in case of robbery.

“We didn’t have anything like (dye packs),” Morris said, “but they got bait money from the girls in the front.”

Morris said he followed the four until law enforcement officers took over the chase, but declined to comment on that subject.

Morris figures bank robberies are less likely in a village like Melrose because there aren’t many places to hide.

“It seems to me it would be hard for them to get away from us,” Morris said. “All the arteries are to bigger towns with bigger police.”

He said it was the first time the bank had been robbed in its more than nine years in Melrose.

The bank closed operations after the robbery, and opened again Tuesday morning. Other than a touch of nervousness in the first few minutes, Morris said the day was pretty routine.

Melrose has been without a full-time police officer since dismissing former police Chief Jennifer Dreiling almost a year ago, citing job performance issues.

To-date, a replacement has not been hired.

Mayor Tuck Monk said the village is still accepting applications for the position and wants to fill it, but hasn’t found a candidate yet.

“Due to our funds, we can’t compete with the large cities’ payrolls,” he said. “We haven’t had enough (applications) come through.”

Dreiling was earning a salary of $28,000 at the time of her dismissal.

Monk said the village pays two sheriff’s deputies to provide police coverage for the village during their off-duty hours from Curry County. Combined, they provide approximately 40 hours of coverage a week.

And the sheriff’s office supplements by patrolling the village, responding to calls and providing back-up and assistance where needed, Waller said.

911 calls in the county are routed through the sheriff’s office during business hours and through Clovis’ central dispatch after hours.

Waller said the sheriff’s office provides coverage to all outlying areas in the county, as does state police.

In communities such as Texico and Melrose, which maintain independent police departments, sheriff’s deputies still supplement.

The sheriff’s office is sensitive to Melrose’s need for assistance as it searches for a police chief, Waller said.

“We do a little more when they’re in need,” he said, however he said, “We do the same thing in Texico. We cover the calls and investigation in Texico when their police department is unavailable.”

Monk said the village has been satisfied and thankful for the support it has received from the sheriff’s office.

“They have real good response time and there’s usually (a deputy) somewhere in the area. They’re able to get here pretty quick,” he said.

“We’re fairly comfortable with the coverage that we have now, but we are looking (for our own police chief).”

Monk said the last time he can remember a robbery in the village was a bank robbery about 15 years ago.