Peru police have collected “good physical evidence” from an armed robbery Saturday night in which a police dog was killed, and detectives suspect the two robbers are part of an interstate ring.
Peru police chief Doug Bernabei said this morning that investigators led by Detective Sgt. Dennis Hocking are collecting and analyzing evidence from a holdup reported at 6:46 p.m. Saturday at the Verizon cellular telephone store located north of 38th Street and east of Route 251 near Staples.
Bernabei noted they retrieved “very good video surveillance” showing two black men in their 20s leaving in a bluish-green Chrysler minivan. Evidence suggests the Verizon holdup was by an “organized group conducting armed robberies of cellular stores across not only Illinois but the entire Midwest, especially along the Interstate 80 corridor.”
“I can say this was an especially dangerous and brazen crime,” Bernabei said. He said he could not yet disclose details of the robbery, but added, “It was a very, very terrorizing event for the people inside the store. From what we know these are very dangerous criminals.”
While the search goes on for the two suspects, Peru police are making arrangements, pending for Thursday, to honor the police dog killed during the response.
K-9 officer Art Smith, an 11-year veteran of Peru police, was headed north on Route 251 approaching 36th Street/Wenzel Road at 6:49 p.m. when a westbound vehicle entered the intersection and struck the right side of Smith’s cruiser, resulting in the police dog being ejected and fatally injured.
Smith was treated and released from Illinois Valley Community Hospital in Peru and awaits a follow-up visit today. His injuries were not serious.
The dog, Kali, was pronounced dead around 8 p.m. Kali, a female Belgian Malinois, was added to the Peru force last fall at a cost of about $12,000. Bernabei said Kali was fully trained for narcotics detection, searching and tracking. Kali is the first Peru police dog killed in the line of duty, Bernabei said.
Bernabei emphasized that neither Smith nor the westbound driver would be charged in connection with the collision. Smith entered the intersection through a red light but properly so, as his sirens and oscillating lights were activated and he was responding to an emergency call. The oncoming driver’s view was obstructed and the driver could not hear the siren or see the emergency lights.
“It’s just one of those very unfortunate things,” Bernabei said Saturday night. By policy, the accident has been turned over to state police.
While the motorist isn’t legally responsible for Kali’s death, the robbers would be so charged under the accountability theory. When apprehended, the suspects would face charges of armed robbery (base range: 6-30 years in prison with the possibility of firearm enhancements) and would likely face a charge of causing the death of a police service animal, a Class 3 felony carrying 2-5 years in prison.
Bernabei said police are in the early stages of planning a celebration of Kali’s service, which would be open to the public.
“On behalf of Art and Kali and everyone here at the police department, I want to extend my appreciation for the overwhelming amount of support we’ve received from the community, not just in Peru but in the entire Illinois Valley area and beyond,” Bernabei said. “We’ve received thousands of Facebook postings, calls and e-mails. This has touched a lot of people and we appreciate the support.”
Information on the robbery suspects immediately was relayed all over Northern Illinois via the Illinois State Police Emergency Radio Network. Bernabei said investigators have been analyzing video from the Verizon store not only from the time of the crime but earlier, as well as video from nearby locations to try to identify the van or suspects and to determine if the suspects had been casing the business.