Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: Manuel Rodriguez, 31, left, and Dora Gandarilla, 38, were arrested and booked into the Graham County Adult Detention Facility on multiple charges after allegedly running from police and tossing a handgun and drugs.
By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – A pair of prohibited possessors tossed out a silver revolver handgun in an area frequented by children and hard drugs in another area but it was all for naught as they and all the contraband were secured by officers.
Manuel Rodriguez, 31, was arrested and booked into the Graham County Adult Detention Facility on a warrant and charges of endangerment, driving on a suspended license, unlawful flight from law enforcement, and two counts of misconduct involving weapons. Rodriguez was the driver of a white Chevy Tahoe that fled from the police. His passenger, Dora Gandarilla, 38, was arrested and booked into the jail on a probation violation and charges of endangerment, two counts of misconduct involving weapons, possession of a narcotic (heroin) drug, possession of a narcotic (heroin) drug for sale, and possession of a dangerous (methamphetamine) drug.
On Monday, Oct. 14, a Safford officer witnessed a white Chevy Tahoe northbound on 8th Avenue nearly collide with a lawfully parked car at about 2:26 p.m. The Tahoe swerved at the last moment and barely missed the car, according to a police report. The officer pulled up next to the Tahoe at the intersection of 8th Avenue and 8th Street and recognized the driver as Rodriguez. He then ran the license plate and learned that the insurance was not valid. When the officer attempted to make a traffic stop, however, the Tahoe accelerated and sped south on 10th Avenue just as Lafe Nelson Elementary School was getting out and there were numerous students and cars in the area. The officer lost sight of the Tahoe and alerted the situation to other units.
A short time later, another officer was flagged down by some students in the Safford City-Graham County Library parking lot who had a handgun they said was thrown from a vehicle matching the suspects’ Tahoe. The handgun was found on the sidewalk area between the library parking lot and the Safford Middle School Ed Ragland Basketball Courts. The weapon, which had its serial number shaved off, was not loaded.
A little bit later, the driver of the Tahoe, Rodriguez, was spotted walking near Ace Hardware and Gandarilla was located in the driver’s seat of the Tahoe, which was parked on the west side of 5th Avenue just south of the intersection with Main Street. Gandarilla was ordered out of the SUV at gunpoint and denied driving but allegedly admitted to throwing the gun out of the vehicle after Rodriguez gave it to her.
An inventory of the Tahoe yielded a scale with apparent drug residue, a baggie with anti-anxiety pills, and a baggie containing methamphetamine. Gandarilla’s cell phone was also confiscated, and it had several messages relating to procuring heroin and selling it to others. A backpack full of jewelry was also located in the rear compartment of the vehicle.
At that time, officers were alerted that Gandarilla had also been seen on a security camera exiting the Tahoe and throwing something into an open basement access of a building. Detectives utilized a small camera to look into the opening and discovered a bundled up piece of wax paper that appeared to contain heroin. The detectives then utilized a pole and duct tape and retrieved the wax paper, which contained three brown balls of heroin. Another detective then entered the basement with the consent of the business’ owner and located a baggie of methamphetamine in the same area.
Gandarilla allegedly admitted to throwing not only the gun out the window but the drugs as well and said she drove the Tahoe a short distance after the chase but that Rodriguez had been driving when they were fleeing from the initial officer. She denied selling heroin and said she instead just makes deals with people and then shares the drugs she obtains. She said the drugs she threw out had all been in the center console of the SUV and believed they belonged to Rodriguez.
Rodriguez allegedly advised the anti-anxiety pills were his as well as the backpack with the jewelry. Both Rodriguez and Gandarilla were also found to be prohibited possessors of a firearm and were booked into the jail without further incident and the Tahoe was towed from where it was located and impounded.