Suspect involved in robbery of St. George restaurant identified, charged with multiple offenses

A man is arrested by St. George Police officers after an alleged robbery at Durango's Mexican Grill, St. George, Utah, June 3, 2022 | Photo courtesy of Misa Rdrgz, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The suspect detained during an alleged armed robbery at a restaurant on Red Cliffs Drive over the weekend has been identified as a Georgia man who was formally charged with aggravated robbery.

File photo of police responding to an alleged robbery at Durango’s Mexican Grill, St. George, Utah, June 3, 2022 | Submitted photo, St. George News

The suspect arrested following an armed robbery reported at Durango’s Mexican Grill on Red Cliffs Drive in St George on Friday was identified as 45-year-old Lazaro Ponce, of Savannah, Georgia. He has been formally charged with first-degree felony aggravated robbery and one second-degree felony count of receiving a stolen vehicle. He remains in jail without bail.

Ponce also faces four misdemeanor charges, including theft, intoxication, disorderly conduct and failure to disclose identity.

According to charging documents filed with the court, the charges were filed in connection with an incident shortly before 9:45 p.m.Friday when emergency dispatch received a call reporting an armed robbery involving a suspect who was armed and still inside a local restaurant.

Responding officers received updated information that indicated the suspect had a gun and had taken all of the cash from the register. Seconds later, officers learned that the manager of the business had subdued the suspect and was holding him down inside the store.

When police arrived, Ponce still was being held down by restaurant staff. He then was handcuffed by police. Officers also found a large amount of cash lying on the floor nearby.

While being searched by police, the report states, Ponce told officers that if the restaurant was pressing any charges against him,  he wanted to press charges, alleging he had been jumped and struck with a gun. The suspect was also found with a laceration to his head that was checked by emergency medical personnel at the scene.

During a search of the suspect, officers recovered a Toyota key that had a tag from a rental company identifying the key as belonging to a “4-Runner.”

At the time of the incident, the suspect entered the business and told the cashier he had a 9 mm handgun as he demanded the money from the register. He threatened to harm the employees if they did not comply, placing his hand in his waistband where he claimed to have a firearm.

File photo of police responding to an alleged robbery at Durango’s Mexican Grill, St. George, Utah, June 3, 2022 | Submitted photo, St. George News

The staff handed over the cash and as the suspect was making his exit from the restaurant, he was tackled by one of the shop’s employees. Several other employees jumped in and held the suspect down until officers arrived.

Officers also learned that the manager of the store reportedly had a firearm, for which they had a concealed weapons permit, but it was unknown whether the suspect actually had a gun.

In all, the suspect allegedly took more than $1,400 from the cashier, all of which was recovered by police.

Prior to being transported to jail, the officer asked for the suspect’s name multiple times, but each time the suspect would change the subject and continued to explain that he wanted to press charges against the business. He also accused the officer of failing to activate his body camera prior to responding to the call. Officers also detected the strong odor of alcohol and noticed that his speech was slurred, leading them to believe the man was intoxicated.

Meanwhile, detectives processing the scene located a black Toyota 4-Runner in the parking lot, and when the plate was run through emergency dispatch, they learned the SUV was listed as stolen out of Las Vegas, Nevada. Initial reports indicated the SUV was stolen from a car rental lot by “a male subject who claimed to have a 9 mm,” the officer noted, adding the clothing description listed in the Nevada theft matched the clothes the suspect was wearing when he was arrested hours later in St. George.

Authorities later learned that the key found during a search of the suspect’s pockets earlier belonged to the vehicle.

Officers were able to identify the suspect as Ponce through a release document issued after a previous arrest that was found amid the suspect’s property.

Ponce was transported to St. George Regional Hospital for evaluation and treatment for his head wound. While at the hospital, the suspect made a number of comments regarding the incident, saying , he “had not taken any money,” and that police “were supposed to let him go like banks,” the officer recounted in the report.

During a subsequent interview with police, the suspect said he had gone into the restaurant and ordered a drink, and said when the cashier handed him cash, he “never turns money down.”  When he turned to leave the business, he was jumped and struck with a gun.

As soon as the officer started to ask clarifying questions, Ponce asked for a lawyer and the interview was terminated. Ponce was then transported to Purgatory Correctional Facility where he is being held without bail.

No injuries to civilians or officers were reported.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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