By Lt Katherine Cruz, AA/PIO
Pleasant Valley State Prison
An off-duty correctional officer on a night drive with his family had to quickly act when they were confronted by a gun-waving motorist.
Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP) Correctional Officer Hector Villarreal and his family were driving through Kerman on Jan. 8 when a Chevrolet Silverado pulled alongside, the other driver brandishing a black semi-automatic firearm at the officer and his family.
Officer Villarreal shouted for his family to get down in their seats as he made several attempts to steer away from the other vehicle. The gunman pursued, staying on the family’s tail.
Realizing that the gunman was not going to stop following them, the officer pulled into a gas station and took action. Fearing for the safety of his family and others, he parked his vehicle in a safe location and told his family to stay in the vehicle and call the police. To try to draw the gunman away from his family, Officer Villarreal un-holstered his off-duty weapon and shouted at two civilians who were gassing up their vehicles to seek shelter and call the police.
The officer took cover and called the Kerman Police Department while keeping an eye on the gunman, who remained in his vehicle that was now parked near the gas pumps.
Local police arrived and Officer Villarreal identified himself to the first responding officer by displaying his state issued badge and briefed the officer on the situation and the suspect’s current position.
Kerman police officers surrounded the suspect’s vehicle. With weapons drawn, Officer Villarreal alongside Kerman PD, placed the suspect into handcuffs while other responding law enforcement officers provided coverage. A search of the suspect’s vehicle revealed a .380 semi-automatic handgun and methamphetamine. The suspect was taken into custody on firearm and drug possession charges, as well as an outstanding warrant for driving on a suspended license.
Further investigation by the Fresno Sheriff’s Forensic Laboratory team revealed the suspect’s weapon matched the bullets recovered from a shooting spree in five different locations in the Kerman area between Nov. 27 and Dec. 17, 2017, only a few weeks before the suspect’s run-in with Officer Villarreal.
The Fresno-Kerman area was in the grip of a series of random shootings in the area west of Highway 99. News reports indicated there could have been as many as 10 shootings in which drivers were randomly fired upon from a moving vehicle. The shootings left one person with shrapnel wounds from broken glass and many area motorists taking alternate routes to avoid the areas where the shootings appeared to be concentrated.
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims applauded Officer Villarreal’s actions.
“The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office is grateful to Correctional Officer Hector Villarreal for his actions. Hector’s dedication and bravery in this risky situation helped take a very dangerous man off the streets,” Sheriff Mims said. “He deserves all of the credit for delivering a sense of relief throughout our entire community.”
PVSP leadership also lauded his actions.
“We are proud of Officer Villarreal for not only protecting his family, but for having the presence of mind to warn and remove other innocent people from the area and assist in the apprehension of a dangerous individual from the streets. He represented himself in a heroic manner and we are all proud of him,” said Jonathan Buckley, Chief Deputy Warden at PVSP.
Officer Villarreal began his career at CDCR on Aug. 11, 2017, when he reported to the Richard A. McGee Correctional Training Center as a cadet. On Dec. 8, 2017, Officer Villarreal reported to PVSP as a Correctional Officer where he is currently employed.