... _15797.php

Robbery spurs border watch effort
Apr 2, 2005

A Yuma resident has begun work on a Neighborhood Border Watch program to monitor the entry of illegal aliens crossing the Mexican border in the Yuma area.

Flash Sharrar, whose son Matthew was robbed at gunpoint Sunday night in the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, said he has 25 people who have pledged their support to the program, which piggybacks on the Minuteman Project with one big difference.

"We've got a lot of people who are enthusiastic about it," Sharrar said. "And the part they like best is no guns."

The group's first meeting will be Wednesday night. Sharrar said he hopes to have people monitoring the border within two weeks.

Sharrar said the plan is to give each watcher a citizen's band, or CB, radio that is linked to a base station. When a watcher sees an illegal alien attempting to cross the border, he or she would call the base, who would then contact the U.S. Border Patrol.

"We want to see where the holes are," Sharrar said. "That's where we want to be, to plug the holes."

Yuma sector Border Patrol spokesman Joe Brigman said that as of late Friday afternoon, the Border Patrol had only unconfirmed reports of a local Yuma group that may be participating in Minuteman-type activity.

Sharrar said he had spoken with the Border Patrol Friday. However, Brigman said the Border Patrol had not been contacted by any potential border groups.

The Minuteman Project, which says it will have more than 1,000 volunteers watching the border in southeastern Arizona, began Friday. Some of the volunteers are armed.

Sharrar said he had been contacted by people involved with Minuteman. "I told them we don't want them here," he said. "We don't need them here. We don't do guns."

After Sharrar's son was deployed overseas, Sharrar became closely involved with Operation Troop Comfort. His recent focus on the border was spurred by Sunday's incident, in which his son was robbed of his Ford Explorer, $700 and his cell phone.

Officials for the Border Patrol's El Centro sector say they will likely deploy increased resources to the area where the robberies occurred.

El Centro sector spokesman Miguel Hernandez said any time such an incident occurs, Border Patrol gathers information and then increases patrols in that area.

"We try to eradicate the problem immediately," he said. "We immediately deploy more agents, more scope if it's at night, more ATV units. If we don't do anything, it might happen again."

According to the Imperial County Sheriff's Office, there were two incidents Sunday night in the Midway Well campground involving thieves who may have come from Mexico.

Sgt. Anthony Brewer said it is unknown if the robbers were illegal aliens. "It appears the suspects left toward Mexico," he said. "It's unknown where they came from."

Brewer had no updates on the investigation, which he said is ongoing.

Victims said they were robbed in the Buttercup campground that they believed was far from the Mexican border. Brewer said they were "camped almost on the border."

Border Patrol was characterizing the robberies as random and not the sign of an overall trend. Reports that the robberies were the work of a large group of bandits were unconfirmed by Hernandez.

"I think it's just random," he said. "Every time, you are near the border, it brings out the issue of being a target. But we don't think people are being targeted at this time."

Libia Arevalo of San Diego said she was in a trailer that was shot into by the thieves and rammed repeatedly with their vehicle.

"My children, who were on the phone with me, could hear the gun shots," she said. "They were shooting to kill."

Despite what authorities may do now, Arevalo said she has been to the dunes for the last time.

"I've been going there since I was six and I'm a grandmother now," she said. "I won't go back."

Arevalo was critical of the response by the Border Patrol. Hernandez said Border Patrol is not connected to local 911 dispatch and responded as soon as they were contacted by another agency.

To contact Border Patrol directly, people can call the El Centro sector at 1-800-901-2003 in the U.S. or 001-1-800-901-2003 in Mexico. In the Yuma sector, people can call 1-866-999-USBP.

Brigman said if people call these numbers the information can be dispatched "in a blink of an eye" to agents in the field.

El Centro sector spokeswoman Danielle Suarez said the sector is well served by its relationship with Mexican authorities.

"We share information and cooperate with the Mexican Liaison Unit," she said. "We have a good working relationship with them. If there is a group of people (committing robberies) we're working on it along with Mexican authorities to prevent it from happening again."