The Big Score

A roving band of young men took to the streets of Montrose, committing more than 20 armed robberies in one week, police say. One guy was shot. No one was killed. A lot of people were terrified. Most times, the robbers' "loot" was a couple of bucks.

The gunman told the next couple they held up to hold still. But Richard Torres and his girlfriend started running. The gunman got out of the car and chased them down the sidewalk until they pounded on the door of a well-lit house.

About a mile away, the robbers turned onto Kipling and tried to rob the couple walking their baby. The waiter who wanted his wallet back lives a few blocks down the street; he watched that attempted robbery. Five minutes after that job proved unsuccessful, the Pontiac crossed back over Westheimer and cruised the streets just behind the Pier 1 on West Gray.

There, Hjalmar Sundeen was walking his dog Wuppie Puppie, a 55-pound black "muttweiler." Hjalmar, 51, took his usual route down Woodhead to the corner of Morse. The eight-year-old dog was sniffing the grass when Hjalmar spotted a car with only the parking lights on. The passenger yelled something at him, but Hjalmar couldn't understand if the guy was asking for his wallet or wondering where Waugh is (it's just around the corner). Hjalmar says he turned around, said, "What?" and a guy standing three feet behind him shot him in the face.

When the robbers shot Hjalmar Sundeen, Hjalmar shot back.
Deron Neblett
When the robbers shot Hjalmar Sundeen, Hjalmar shot back.
When the robbers shot Hjalmar Sundeen, Hjalmar shot back.
Deron Neblett
When the robbers shot Hjalmar Sundeen, Hjalmar shot back.

"It was like someone coming up and slapping a brick upside your head," Hjalmar says. The bullet hit below his left lip and lodged in his neck dangerously close to his carotid artery. Hjalmar reached into his pocket and pulled out his .380-caliber Colt pistol and started shooting. Hjalmar is licensed to carry a concealed weapon and target-shoots every weekend at Top Gun Texas. If someone shoots at him, he shoots back.

The first bullet shattered the passenger window. The next two rounds went into the door but didn't hit any of the boys. "The problem is I didn't have the right gun," Hjalmar says. Usually he carries an H&K .40-caliber revolver. "I could've gotten 'em for sure," he says. Hjalmar's wife heard his bullets and opened the front door; the dog came running in.

Speeding away, the robbers ran two red lights and were spotted by an HPD officer at the corner of Westheimer and Hazard; the chase was on. They zigzagged through the Montrose roads they'd traveled all week, ignoring stop signs and speed limits. They jumped onto the South Loop, headed east and took the Scott Street exit into the Third Ward.

Montreal's grandmother was sweeping the kitchen's cracked brown linoleum. His little brother was still sitting on the couch staring at the television when he saw cop cars go by with their lights flashing. Meco walked outside and saw several other patrol cars; he followed the crowd of people a few blocks down the street to see what was going on.

The Pontiac turned down Tierwester, a dead end. They were trapped; the passenger and the driver got out of the two-door car and ran. The front-seat passenger ran and ran and was lost in the night. The officers caught the driver and arrested the two boys in the backseat.

Meco stood among his neighbors, silently watching as both his classmate and his big brother drove off in the back of a patrol car.

The driver, Jermaine Harris, thought the 20-minute chase had lasted two hours. He gave the police a videotaped confession saying that he, Ray Ray and Kendrell had committed five robberies in the afternoon, then gone home for a dinner break. He says they picked up Montreal around 7:30 p.m. and started the second shift. Jermaine says that Ray Ray was the gunman in most of the robberies. The next day a lineup was held, and the three arrested boys were all picked out by 12 of the victims. In a photo lineup, Ray Ray was identified as the gunman by one of the victims, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

The address on Ray Ray's driver's license is in Clayton Homes, a complex on the edge of downtown. Flanked by train tracks and the on-ramp to I-10, the buttercream-colored buildings look like apartments for young professionals, but Ray Ray lived in the back. His was one of the brick buildings owned by the housing authority; most people call it the projects.

The screen door to his apartment is open, the refrigerator is in the living room, and the doors are torn off the kitchen cabinets. The windows are broken, and the light fixtures are shattered; the cloudy glass lies on the ripped-up carpet. The only thing left in the place is a phone book -- the maintenance guy says the building is slated for destruction.

The police went to Ray Ray's grandmother's house with the warrant. She lives down the street from attorney Marcelyn Curry, who drove Ray Ray to the police station so he could turn himself in. "He was very polite," Curry says. Ray Ray's going to spend his 18th birthday this week in prison.

Monday morning Billie Marie sits in the criminal courthouse with tears resting on her cheeks as she waits to see her grandson. Clutched in one hand is a Bible quote; in the other is a crumpled envelope with Montreal's lawyer's name on it. She stops every man wearing a suit and asks him if he's her lawyer. Assistant District Attorney Lance Long says that no, he's not her lawyer, and no, her lawyer isn't here, but he should be soon.

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