Minnesota fugitive, two bounty hunters killed in Texas car dealership shootout

DALLAS (AP) - Authorities said Wednesday two bounty hunters and the fugitive from Minnesota they were tracking shot each other dead in a hail of bullets that sent customers and employees fleeing for cover at a Texas car dealership.

The two men had pursued Ramon Michael Hutchinson, 49, to a Nissan dealership in Greenville, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Dallas Tuesday. Stew Peters, a bail investigator with the private Minnesota-based company U.S. Fugitive Recovery and Extradition, said Hutchinson had been sought since March when he failed to appear for a court hearing in Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis.

Hutchinson, listed in court records as a resident of St. Paul, Minnesota, was facing several charges that included assaulting a law enforcement officer.

It's not clear what brought Hutchinson to Texas but Peters said he received a phone call Tuesday from Fidel Garcia Jr., a private investigator based in Corpus Christi, Texas, to say Garcia and colleague Gabriel Bernal had tracked Hutchinson to the dealership. A woman associated with Hutchinson had her car there.

After an hours-long wait for Hutchinson to appear, the two bounty hunters approached Tuesday evening. Garcia and Bernal drew their weapons and Hutchinson responded by drawing his own pistol, which he dropped, according to a statement from Kathy Lucas, spokeswoman for the city of Greenville. The men fought as Hutchinson retrieved his weapon and began firing. The other two fired as well and Lucas said about 20 shots were fired in the span of six seconds. Customers and employees fled for cover.

"Mr. Garcia felt the defendant would ultimately appear at that dealership," Peters said. "Unfortunately Mr. Hutchinson was more prepared for a gunfight."

Hutchinson and the two investigators died at the scene. No one else was struck by the gunfire.

The owner of the dealership, Rick Ford, told The Associated Press by email Wednesday that the two men called the dealership earlier and identified themselves as federal agents. They later presented themselves to a receptionist and the general manager in the same way, Ford said.

Peters said he didn't know Bernal, 33, but had been friends with Garcia for a decade and said he would not misrepresent himself.

"He always performed his investigations with the utmost integrity," Peters said, adding that Garcia commonly wore both audio and visual recording devices while working. It's not known if he was wearing the devices Tuesday.

Garcia, 54, sat on the board of the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators and another board member, Bradley Smith, described him as a "gentle giant."

"He was a big man and he had a big heart to go with it," Smith said.

He said private investigators registered in Texas are licensed through the state Department of Public Safety, and added that bail-bond companies seeking fugitives in Texas are required to use registered investigators.

Tuesday's shooting was the second time in about a month in the U.S. when violence erupted as private groups were attempting to apprehend fugitives.

Authorities in Tennessee say seven people they described as bounty hunters shot at four people in a car April 23 in Clarksville, killing one man and injuring another. It appears the larger group targeted the wrong vehicle and all seven have been indicted on first-degree murder charges. Not one of the men in the car was wanted on outstanding charges.