Drug, gang units in on theft probe

Armed robbers struck two Modesto businesses within 30 minutes Tuesday night, and the Police Department is looking to its specialty investigative units to help find the bandits.

No injuries occurred in either of the robberies.

The first holdup occurred just before 9:30 p.m. at Hollywood Video at 2100 Standiford Avenue. About 9:55 p.m., a gunman held up Alegres taqueria at Orangeburg Avenue and Coffee Road.

Victims from both robberies described the thief as a black man armed with a handgun, wearing a black hooded sweat shirt that was partially pulled down over his face.

There was no indication the robberies were linked, but investigators are looking into that possibility, Modesto police spokesman Sgt. Craig Gundlach said.

On Sunday, Jalapeño's Taqueria in the 2000 block of Tully Road, just north of Briggsmore Avenue, was robbed at gunpoint shortly before 9 p.m. Witnesses told police that two robbers walked into the restaurant, demanded money and left with cash from the registers.

Gundlach said narcotics and gang investigators are helping with the investigations. He said pulling investigators from specially equipped units allows the department to tap into resources that won't drain patrol efforts.

Tuesday night's robberies came on the heels of a series of Modesto holdups and rip-offs in which robbers burst into businesses while customers and employees were inside.

The most alarming to police was an armed robbery about 7:15 p.m. Jan. 23 at Red Lobster at 3000 Sisk Road, just south of Standiford Avenue.

The robber walked into the restaurant that was filled with customers, and demanded cash. Gundlach said the man, armed with a shotgun, ordered employees and customers to lie on the floor. He walked around threatening people, at one point sticking the shotgun in a man's face while his terrified family looked on.

Police arrived quickly and a suspect was identified and arrested a few minutes after the holdup.

"Those (robberies) don't happen every day," Gundlach said. "That was an extreme takeover robbery. But it can happen."

Three north Modesto eateries were robbed in five days in mid-January. The suspect descriptions were similar in the three robberies, which occurred about 9 to 9:30 p.m. within four miles of each other along the same road, police said.

A series of early evening cash register thefts prompted Mo- desto police to assign officers from its Street Crimes Unit and Modesto Narcotics Enforcement Team to follow up on leads in the investigation.

"Those (robberies) were very brazen and without any consideration for public safety," Gund-lach said. "We just didn't want to wait around and take down reports. We want to be proactive on these."

The police investigators identified three men as potential suspects and a surveillance team followed them Friday evening to Ceres, where they spotted them in a van fleeing the scene of a cash register theft at a shoe store.

Officers found the stolen cash register inside the van, police said.

Modesto police ask anyone with information about these robberies to call CrimeStoppers at 521-4636. Callers to CrimeStoppers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.