With police finally on his trail, 29-year-old Marco Antonio Villarino pulled out a gun, turned it on himself and fired.
The fugitive who authorities believe participated in the Gas Can robberies, led the Zip Tie bandits and helped in a deadly Las Vegas robbery killed himself early Wednesday in Avondale after crashing his car while fleeing a task force of local and federal police.
“This is a career criminal who was participating (in) and we believe leading a very serious crime spree,” said Mesa police spokesman Detective Chris Arvayo. “We’re dealing with someone that needed to be taken off the streets.”
Tuesday night, a group of Mesa officers, U.S. marshals and Arizona Department of Public Safety officers were watching a Peoria home in the 5900 block of Malapai Drive where they were tipped off that Villarino was staying.
Authorities didn’t want to storm into the home because they didn’t know who was inside and decided the situation could turn dangerous.
But the wanted man didn’t stay inside long. He left the home in a blue Buick sedan just before midnight and was followed to 107th Avenue and McDowell Road.
“He knew the cops were behind him, tried to speed away, lost control and hit a power box,” Arvayo said.
As detectives got out of their cars, they fired one bean bag round, then heard a gunshot. Villarino was dead.
An illegal immigrant, Villarino spent much of his life in Mesa, including attending elementary school.
Villarino was a suspect in a 2004 Mesa robbery spree where assailants in masks robbed check-cashing businesses by using a garden sprayer to douse the stores and employees with gasoline. In some cases, they even lit the gas on fire as they fled.
Most recently, police used physical evidence to tie Villarino as the possible ringleader in this year’s Zip Tie bandits case, in which a group of men bound the hands of convenience store clerks and customers with plastic ties during a series of robberies in Mesa, Phoenix and Buckeye.
Officials hadn’t disclosed the most recent connection to the public because they didn’t want the man they had sought for three years to know they were on to him. And catching him had already proven difficult in two failed attempts. Denver police had him surrounded in March 2006, but he escaped by ramming a car. A California police officer stopped him in October 2006, but didn’t check him for warrants. In September, the FBI released a photo of Villarino and asked the public to stay on the lookout for him.
He also was wanted in connection with a 2004 jewelry robbery in Denver and was linked to a string of robberies in Gilbert. In April 2006, Villarino was charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution and was believed to be traveling in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada.