Fugitive Elgin father caught and is sentenced to prison
By Dave Gathman firstname.lastname@example.org February 13, 2013 7:12PM
Updated: March 15, 2013 1:18PM
ELGIN — When the murder case involving Eric Galarza’s 6-year-old son finally goes to trial and it comes time for him to testify, prosecutors at last will know where to find the veteran street-gang member — in Stateville prison.
Prosecutors believe that when first-grader Eric Galarza Jr. was shot to death in a car full of family members on Elgin’s northeast side in October 2011, the shooter really was aiming at now-32-year-old Eric M. Galarza Sr. because of a dispute among gang members.
Miguel Hernandez Jr. of Aurora, a member of the same gang as Galarza, was charged with first-degree murder in the case a week later. Galarza Sr. was expected to be an important witness in the murder case.
But in June of last year, Galarza went on the lam and disappeared after he allegedly hit, choked and threatened to shoot his wife Denisse Ignacio Galarza, the dead boy’s mother, while he was driving Denisse through the town of Wayne on her way to work, police said.
Wayne police officers moved to arrest him later that day as he went to pick up Denisse from her work place in St. Charles. But Galarza sensed the officers’ presence and fled, leading police on a miles-long chase down Kirk and Dunham roads, The chase ended with Galarza running away on foot into the woods of James “Pate” Philip State Park near Dunham and Stearns roads south of Bartlett.
Behind, in the car, he left his two surviving children. Age 4 and 1 at the time, they also had been riding in the family car when Hernandez allegedly pumped a half-dozen or so bullets into it the previous October, killing their big brother.
Police searched the woods and other nearby areas for hours with dogs and a helicopter but were unable to find Galarza. He remained a fugitive for four months. But in the last week of November, the U.S. Marshals Service arrested him in San Antonio, Texas, and in December he was extradited back to Illinois.
Vowed to go down shooting
With a long history of violence, Galarza had been considered a very dangerous fugitive, authorities have said. “He had made statements to various people that he would never be taken alive, that he was never going back to the penitentiary,” Wayne Police Chief Dan Callahan said this week.
Jim Gerard, the Wayne police officer who chased Galarza on foot away from his car that day in June, also was put in charge of trying to locate him. Gerard said Galarza finally was found after the marshals service discovered his cellphone number and tracked the phone’s location. Investigators already had suspected he might be in San Antonio because his mother lives there. But Gerard said Galarza was staying in his own apartment.
Gerard said Galarza had vowed to an unnamed witness that he would end his life if need be in a shootout with cops, but that the marshals raiding his apartment struck so quickly and in such overwhelming strength that he never had a chance to reach for a gun.
Gerard said that when he went to San Antonio to interview Galarza, he begged the fugitive to reveal how he had gotten away from all those people, planes and dogs involved in the June manhunt along Stearns Road. But Galarza’s lips were sealed.
Gerard said Denisse Galarza reported that Galarza had held a gun against her during his alleged attack on her the preceding morning. But Gerard said no gun was found in the car after Galarza ran away that afternoon, and he saw no evidence of a weapon as he ran after Galarza.
Beat man in Bartlett
Galarza actually was wanted in two cases back home. Wayne police wanted him to come to Kane County court to face charges of aggravated domestic battery, unlawful restraint, fleeing and eluding, and possession of a weapon by a felon, all related to the threat against his wife and the resulting police chase, authorities said.
But he also was already out on bond in Cook County after being charged there with beating up a man in the Cadillac Ranch nightclub in Bartlett in June 2011. So when Galarza was brought back to Illinois, he was taken to the Cook County Jail, not Kane County’s.
And last week, Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney David Weiner said, Galarza pled guilty to “aggravated battery that caused great bodily harm” in the Cadillac Ranch case. Galarza was sentenced to three years in prison, plus an extra year for jumping bail.
According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, he arrived at Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet last week and is undergoing “intake processing” before being assigned to a state prison. He will become eligible for parole in 2015.
He is still awaiting trial in Kane County on the June charges.
Murder case proceeds
Meanwhile, pretrial maneuvering continues in the child-murder case against Hernandez. A hearing will be held Feb. 28 in Cook County’s Rolling Meadows courthouse as Weiner and Hernandez’s defense attorney trade motions of “discovery” to find out what evidence and witnesses each has to use against each other.
Weiner said he could not estimate when the murder case will go to trial.
The recent events have been far from Eric Galarza Sr.’s first brush with the law.
In 2000, he was sentenced to nine years in prison for firing a shotgun into two Elgin homes in an incident of gang warfare. Paroled early, he was back in prison with a three-year sentence in 2004 for possession and use of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Hernandez Jr. also has a lengthy criminal record. He was sentenced to 4½ years in prison for attempted murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm in 2004; to three years in prison for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon in 2002; and to 11 months of conditional discharge for possession of cannabis in 2010.
According to courtroom statements by prosecutors when Hernandez was arrested, his father, Miguel Hernandez Sr. of Elgin, was one of three men in the car with him when the Galarza shooting took place. None of those three have been charged with anything in the case, and they likely will be asked to testify against Hernandez.