Three people believed to have been involved in multiple armed robberies over the past few weeks were arrested Saturday.
The arrest came a day after Sunnyside police made an effort to contact convenience store owners and bank managers to put them on high alert.
"We had information that led us to believe that there was possibly going to be another attempt on a convenience store or place where there is money," said Capt. Phil Schenck of the Sunnyside Police Department. "We were bringing everybody to an increased alert level."
Three of the suspects were arrested after police were called to a possible woman being held against her will at the Townhouse Motel in the 500 block of Yakima Valley Highway Saturday morning at about 1:30 a.m.
When officers arrived they were blocked by Lucio Cruz Benavidez, 26, of Sunnyside and his brother, Marcos Cruz Herrera, who threatened the officers. Sunnyside officers were able to wrestle the two to the ground and found a gun hidden on Benavidez. The two were arrested and taken into custody.
"I was ready to issue a search warrant and make arrests today," said Sunnyside Police Detective Jim Orth, who added that the disorderly conduct hastened the arrest of the robbery suspects.
Yvette De La Fuente, 25, of Sunnyside was arrested later Saturday morning.
Orth has recovered clothing used in the robberies and some of the weapons, although he is still looking for a couple of the guns.
Orth believes that Benavidez has been the mastermind behind the recent string of robberies in the Lower Valley.
He said that Benavidez and a gang of armed robbers can be tied to the robbery at the Minute Mart, 301 S. 13th Street, the Sept. 10 robbery of North Avenue Market, 701 E. North Avenue, and the TM Market robbery, Sept. 19, at 417 Cemetery Road, all in Sunnyside. Benavidez is also believed to have robbed the Prosser Jackpot Thursday night with the help of De La Fuente, who police believe acted as get-away driver, and Herrera, who entered the market with him, said Orth.
According to Orth, the Minute Market in Sunnyside was robbed by Benavidez and Ivan Rivera, 23, who police are still looking for. Orth said that De La Fuente acted as the get-away driver in that robbery as well.
The North Avenue Market robbery was Benavidez working alone with De La Fuente as the driver.
In the last Sunnyside market robbery at TM Market, Benavidez and De La Fuente are believed to have been assisted by Tomas "Benny" Cerda Jr., 24, of Sunnyside, whom police are still seeking.
Cerda has previously been arrested and convicted of an armed robbery in Sunnyside in 1998. He was shot in the arm by the store owner at the TM Market, according to Orth.
"A local person, who is not a health care professional, helped him after he was shot," said Orth.
Orth is also seeking out Misty Ann Simmons, 27, who is believed to have helped by harboring the fugitives and hiding some of their guns.
Drugs has been a big factor in the string of armed robberies, said Orth. He added that the suspects may have also been involved in at least one and maybe as many as three or four additional armed robberies in the Upper Valley.
Benavidez is being charged with four counts of armed robbery, three counts of which are through the Sunnyside Police Department. He is also being charged with illegal possession of a short firearm and possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver.
Herrera is charged with one count of armed robbery through Benton County, obstructing a police officer, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of under 40 grams of marijuana and third degree malicious mischief for damage to the jail.
De La Fuente is charged with four counts of accomplice to armed robbery and possession of a short firearm.
Orth said additional charges may be tacked on to Herrera and Benavidez, who have torn the jail apart, destroying city property and breaking windows.