Pair charged in carjackings

Richard Ortega

Alicia Merlin-Barrera

A Hanover Park man and a Palatine woman are being held in DuPage County Jail in connection with carjackings in Hanover Park and Itasca.

Richard Ortega, 26, a resident of the 5600 block of Pebblebeach Drive; and Alicia Merlin-Barrera, 24, a resident of the 400 block of Palatine Road, appeared Tuesday, Jan. 9, in First Appearance Court each charged with two counts of vehicular hijacking, a Class 1 felony; one count of aggravated unlawful restraint, a Class 3 felony; one count of aggravated reckless driving causing great bodily harm or disfigurement, a Class 4 felony; and multiple misdemeanors including criminal damage to property and battery.

A Class 1 felony is punishable by a mandatory minimum of four to 15 years in prison. A Class 3 felony is punishable by five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. A Class 4 felony is punishable by one to three years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

Judge Joshua Dieden granted the state’s motion to detain both suspects pre-trial.

Shortly before noon Jan. 6, the Hanover Park Police Department received a call regarding the crash of a hijacked vehicle at Arlington Drive and County Farm Road. After speaking with the victim, it is alleged that the woman and another woman were in the victim’s car when they were approached by two individuals, later identified as Ortega and Merlin-Barrera, asking for a ride to a nearby train station.

Police said the victim agreed at which time the defendants entered her Dodge Journey.

As the woman drove to the train station with the defendants in the back seat, Merlin-Barrera told the driver to stop and allegedly reached from the back seat for the car key, which she was able to get after a brief struggle with the driver.

It is further alleged that at the same time, Ortega began hitting the other woman about her head and face.

The vehicle came to a stop at a stoplight, when the driver exited the vehicle and one of the defendants got into the driver’s seat and drove away with the second victim still in the car, police said. A short distance down the road, according to police, the car struck a tree, ejecting the victim from the car causing several fractured ribs, bruises to her face, a broken finger and a fractured ankle.

A passing motorist who witnessed the crash stopped his vehicle, a Chrysler Pacifica van, to help.

While the driver of the van was helping the victim involved in the crash, both defendants allegedly entered the van, with Ortega in the driver’s seat and drove away.

After driving a few blocks, Ortega allegedly crashed the van into a pole, turned the van around and drove past the original crash scene at which time officers who were now on the scene observed the van drive by.

The defendants allegedly entered eastbound Interstate 390 and crashed.

When a passing motorist stopped to assist, Ortega and Merlin-Barrera carjacked his truck, a Toyota Tundra, and fled.

On Friday, Jan. 7, officers with the Hanover Park Police Department located the stolen Toyota truck in Forest Park. Officers with the Forest Park Police Department responded to the location and took both suspects into custody.

“The brazen, lawless crime spree allegedly committed by these two defendants is astonishing,” DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said. “What I find particularly disturbing however, is that on two separate occasions, good Samaritans who stopped to help were allegedly victimized by Ortega and Merlin-Barrera as well. Violent crimes, such as alleged in this case, have no place in a civilized society and will not be tolerated in DuPage County. I applaud the Hanover Park Police Department for their truly outstanding work not only in identifying the defendants in this case, but for their efforts in locating the stolen Toyota which led to the defendants’ apprehension. The successful apprehension of the defendants in this case is a shining example of the importance of cooperation between law enforcement agencies. Bearing that in mind, I thank the Forest Park Police Department for their assistance in this case.”

“The willingness of members of our community to help others in need is one of its greatest strengths, and those who would prey upon people only seeking to assist them must be held accountable,” Hanover Park Chief of Police Andrew Johnson said. “Hanover Park officers and investigators worked tirelessly over the past several days to see that justice was served for these victims. I would like to sincerely thank State’s Attorney Bob Berlin and his staff as well as the Forest Park Police Department for their assistance in bringing about this result.”

The next court date for both defendants is scheduled for Jan. 29 with arraignment in front of Judge Michael Reidy.