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Fugitives caught after 2-year run
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The Feb. 10, 2017 front page of the Standard shows one of the female victims getting loaded into an ambulance after the robbery.

McMinnville Police Department has closed the books on a violent convenience store robbery from February 2017. 

Taken into federal custody were Jorge Caballebro Melgar, 34, Jonny Alexander Reyes Martinez, 29, Elmer Manuel Sanchez, 25, and Elvan Fernando Sanchez, 26.

It is believed three of the four entered C&A Market in McMinnville more than two years ago, injured two female clerks, and left with $200.

The men were among 15 arrested by the FBI in connection with a string of at least 12 violent robberies occurring from December 2016 to September 2017 at small stores across Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.

“I was very, very excited to see that they had been picked up,” said McMinnville police detective Stuart Whitman. “This was a very heinous crime. The savagery of it was uncalled for. They were cooperating completely. Yet, before the men left the market, they used their weapons to beat the ladies over the head.”

Not initially released was the presence of a teenage girl. 

“There was a 14-year-old girl there,” said Whitman. “The most infuriating part was talking to her. They held her on the ground at gunpoint. There was no point in it. No one was resisting. It was savage.”

All 15 arrested will face federal charges of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery for the multi-state crime spree.

“They were targeting Hispanic stores,” said Whitman. “Especially the ones that offered money transfers. I don’t know how they found ours. C&A is off the main roadways in the Skyline area. We may never know how they found it.”

Members of the ring will also face individual charges in connection with their crimes. 

Melgar and Martinez are among five defendants (out of the 15 facing federal charges) charged in the shooting death of Bowling Green, Ky., resident Jose Cruz. According the indictment, the men were attempting to rob the La Placita Market. Cruz was shot and killed by Martinez. 

Whitman says it is unlikely the four will ever face actual charges in Warren County.

“We could, in the future, proceed with charges here locally,” he said. “With what they are charged with federally and all the time they will likely get, it’s unlikely they will ever make it back here.”

Fourteen were out of Nashville. One was from North Carolina.

“We knew early on in the investigation that these were not locals,” said Whitman. “We had pictures of the men. We talked with a number of Hispanic store owners in the community and no one could identify them. The robbery here matched the same MO of the crimes in other states. That’s when the FBI stepped in. I’m just glad it’s over now.”