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Fugitive Elgin father caught, sent to prison

Eric Galarza

Eric Galarza

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Updated: March 15, 2013 1:35PM

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 the boy’s father, 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, and Galarza Sr. was expected to be an important witness in the murder case.

But in June of last year, Galarza disappeared after he allegedly hit, choked and threatened to shoot his wife Denisse Ignacio Galarza, the dead boy’s mother, while he was driving her 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 fired into the vehicle, 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 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 police, 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.

Beat man in Bartlett

After being brought back to Illinois, Galarza was taken to the Cook County Jail on charges of beating a man in the Cadillac Ranch nightclub in Bartlett in June 2011.

Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney David Weiner said Galarza pleaded guilty last week 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, and is being held in the Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet.

Murder case proceeds

Meanwhile, pretrial maneuvering continues in the child-murder case against Hernandez. A hearing dealing with evidence is scheduled for Feb. 28 in Cook County’s Rolling Meadows courthouse.

Weiner said he could not estimate when the murder case will go to trial.

Hernandez, like Galarza, has a lengthy criminal record. Hernandez 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.

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