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Gainesville man charged with impersonating an officer

Cab driver calls 911 after man with badge, gun acts suspiciously

POSTED: September 10, 2013 12:46 a.m.

Fiesta Cab employees said these .22-caliber rounds were left along Frederick Street by a man who was later charged with impersonating an officer. On Thursday night, a man with a badge, gun and laptop called a Fiesta taxi and told the driver to do what he was told and not ask any questions.

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Jose S. Lara-Hernandez knew something wasn’t right when the man he was driving in his taxi wanted to go to the YMCA with a .22-caliber gun.

The man told him he was from California and working on an undercover investigation, Lara-Hernandez said through a translator.

He had a security badge, a .22-caliber Sig Sauer, more than 200 rounds of ammunition and a laptop computer when Lara-Hernandez picked him up Thursday night on Ridgemont Trace in the Willow Ridge subdivision off Old Flowery Branch Road. The driver didn’t see the gun at first, though. He saw that when the man asked to go to the YMCA.

“When they were at West Avenue he showed the badge and he said, ‘Take me to the YMCA. I’m a police officer,’” Javier Diaz translated for Lara-Hernandez.

Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office said his information was that the man asked to go to a few different places, eventually settling on the YMCA, but that the office didn’t have any reason to believe the man intended to commit a crime at the YMCA.

Lara-Hernandez said the man told him not to tell anyone where they were going, but when he said he wasn’t going to pay the cab fare because he was undercover police, Lara-Hernandez decided to take him back to the Fiesta Cab company base on Atlanta Highway at Frederick Street.

When he pulled up, the man got out and walked up Frederick Street, leaving the gun and other items in the backseat.

Diaz said Lara-Hernandez looked like he was “kind of sweating” when he pulled up. They called the authorities at about 5:30 p.m. The man kept walking up the street and Lara-Hernandez followed him, keeping an eye on him.

“He decided to get out of the car, not even paying attention,” Diaz said. “He just walked down the street without a word behind the shop.”

He said the man seemed disoriented. Authorities said they did not have any information as to whether he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

When deputies arrived, they arrested Carlos Ildefonso Lopez, 21, of Gainesville and he was booked into the Hall County Jail on charges of impersonating an officer, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and first-degree burglary.

Cpl. Joe Britte with the Gainesville Police Department said Lopez is suspected of stealing the gun, ammunition, badge and laptop from a residence on Ridgemont Trace at about 4:30 that same afternoon.

“Kudos to the cab driver for staying composed and knowing what to do instead of taking him where he needed to go,” Britte said. “That was swift thinking on his part.”

Lopez is being held without bond and has a committal hearing set for Sept. 20.

The sheriff’s office and Gainesville police are investigating the case.


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