Lawrence police arrested three alleged members of a gang responsible for at least eight armed robberies, during apparent preparations for another robbery, police said.
At least one of the men was employed through the city’s youth violence program.
Just before midnight Tuesday police stopped a Honda Odyssey carrying five or six men that matched the description of a getaway car used during a Jan. 18 armed robbery of the South Union Street Market.
The officers arrested Julio Pazzini, 18, Hector Medina, 19, and Oscar Concepcion, 19, for possession of high-capacity firearms without a license. Pazzini, was also charged with assault and battery of a police officer, according to a police report.
Police are also seeking two men who fled in the Honda, which crashed into another car. Moises Matos-Diaz, 19, and Wilfredy Delacruz, 20, escaped from police after the Honda crashed into another car, the report said.
Pazzini has been a member of Lawrence’s Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, a program funded by an $800,000 state grant that places youth with a history of violence in city labor jobs, said Art McCabe, director of the Lawrence program.
“I’m obviously greatly disappointed,” McCabe said. “The program is designed to go after people in these extreme situations so disappointment is sometimes inevitable.”
On Jan. 22, three other members of the gang, who were also members of the youth program, were arrested following a convenience store robbery in which they held a clerk hostage before surrendering to police.
The gang, which calls itself the Everybody Killers, or EBK, is suspected of being responsible for multiple armed robberies of convenience stores in the area, Lawrence Police Chief John J. Romero said in a brief phone interview.
Deputy Chief Michael Driscoll said in a phone interview that in the past several weeks detectives have identified a dozen suspected members of the gang, including those who were arrested Tuesday and on Jan. 22.
McCabe said that prior to his arrest, Pazzini was performing admirably at Bellvue Cemetery, where he worked through the youth program.
”If you had asked me Monday if I thought there was any sign this would happen I would have said no,” he said. “Often times these kids are drawn into a gang before they even realize it.”
When they stopped the vehicle Tuesday night, officers observed several of the men inside suspiciously cradling their waistband areas as if they were carrying guns, the report said. Three of the men were wearing long, knitted caps that could have been pulled down to hide their faces, the report said.
Romero said it seemed likely the men were on their way to commit another robbery.
“Based on the guns and the masks, when we checked the vehicle we may have interrupted something,” he said.
When an officer asked Pazzini to step out of the vehicle he removed a gun from his waistband and threw it back into the car, which sped off, the report said.
Officers subdued Pazzini and chased after the car, which crashed into a parked vehicle. Matos-Diaz, the driver, and Delacruz escaped on foot, the report said.
Police were unsure whether there was a sixth man in the car.
While inspecting the car, officers found a Norinco SKS high-capacity assault rifle and a Smith & Wesson model 469 handgun.
Pazzini, Medina, and Concepcion were arraigned Wednesday in Lawrence District Court. Not guilty pleas were entered for all three.
Pazzini and Medina were held on $200,000 cash bail. Concepcion was held on $150,000 cash bail.Todd Feathers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ToddFeathers.