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SWAT teams respond to Utopia incident

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

A frantic telephone call to Bandera County Emergency Dispatch at 4:30 pm, Tuesday, April 10, led to the eventual mobilization of SWAT teams from the Bexar County Sheriff's Office and Department of Public Safety.

Later that evening, the highway in front of the Bandera County Courthouse was transformed into a staging area for a negotiations command center and armored vehicles, along with other tactical units. Luckily, however, the incident ended at 11 pm with no injuries.

Earlier that day, a man living on a ranch located off FM 187 in Utopia had apparently called his parents in Houston, threatening suicide. As the situation progressed, the unidentified man became less rational, according to a report from Chief Deputy Richard Smith of the Bandera County Sheriff's Office. "Finally, the individual let it be known he intended to commit 'suicide by cop'," Smith said during an interview at 9:30 pm that night.

"When we realized the extent of the situation, we called the Bexar County Sheriff's Office for support and they immediately offered us assistance. He added, "The area is remote and we don't have the necessary armored vehicles." A second staging area was set up at the intersection of FM 470 and FM 187, according to Smith.

Smith indicated the man was heavily armed with shotguns, rifles and pistols. Bulletproof tactical vehicles were being used to move people out of the area. "The man has the capability to shoot long distances and we didn't want to take any chances with neighbors getting hurt," he said.

Although a negotiator was on the scene, the situation remained volatile as the hours passed. At one point, a DPS helicopter circling above the ranch had to be called back because the man had threatened to "shoot it down," Smith said. "He texted his intentions to the negotiator." The helicopter was removed at approximately 10 pm.

At that point, reports indicated the man was riding throughout the property on a large ATV "mule," carrying a long gun. "He has a 30.06 deer rifle that could easily penetrate a helicopter," Smith said.

BCSO deputies, along with Bandera County constables and DPS troopers assisted at the scene.

"We wanted a peaceful end to this deal without anyone getting hurt - officers or civilians," Smith said prior to the man's surrender. However, even as Smith was recounting events, a report was relayed to him from the scene that indicated, the man had said, "Come and get me. I want this over with."

According to BCSO Capt. Charlie Hicks, the man surrendered without further incident after conferring with negotiators for several hours. "His firearms were seized for safekeeping and we obtained an emergency detention order," Hicks said. The man was transported to Methodist Hospital in San Antonio for observation.

Next week's Courier will include Smith's full statement about the incident.

Pictured: Several out-of-county SWAT and negotiating teams responded to an incident near Utopia the night of Tuesday, April 10.