Suspects in a manhunt were captured in Ashley Friday afternoon.
ASHLEY — After a vehicle chase and extensive manhunt that played out on borough streets for a few hours Friday, police captured three suspects considered to be armed and dangerous.
The incident started with a shooting in Hazleton the night before, authorities say.
The men — including Alajan De La Cruz-Gross, of Hazleton — were caught in the rear parking lot of the Ashley Presbyterian Church at the corner of Oak and School lanes.
Hazleton Police said in a news release that De La Cruz-Gross was one of those involved in Thursday’s shooting at the southern end of the county. The other two men arrested in Ashley — still not identified — were not involved in that shooting, authorities report.
At approximately 1:35 p.m. Friday, Luzerne County Communications notified Hazleton police that an officer in Wilkes-Barre Township spotted a black BMW, and a pursuit was initiated after the officer learned the vehicle was registered to De La Cruz-Gross. That pursuit continued into Ashley, and onto Route 309 near Interstate 81.
Three suspects then abandoned the BMW near Bobby Strish Memorial Park, a Little League field.
A heavy police presence formed in the area of the park. Officers were seen donning bulletproof vests and carrying assault rifles. A State Police helicopter was also flying overhead as officers scoured the neighborhood.
Mary Lou McHugh, 57, of Conyngham Street, which is located near the baseball field, said she was at home when she heard tires screeching. She looked outside to see police chasing a black vehicle to the dead end near the field.
The excitement ended thanks to an observant officer.
Ashley Police Chief David Fedorczyk said a Wilkes-Barre officer noticed a crawl space area was disturbed along the foundation of the church. It was in that space that the suspects were found hiding.
An officer with the suspects could be seen holding what appeared to be a large bag of money. Fedorczyk did not comment on the bag, but said officers were searching for a firearm.
Raymond Grohowski, 18, of School Lane, was walking home from Hanover Area High School as the search was unfolding. He was shocked to see troopers and other officers armed with assault rifles.
“Wow,” he said. “I never thought that could happen here.”
Grohowski noted that his community is normally very quiet, and that Friday’s events were out of the ordinary.
“Never armed individuals running through, basically, my backyard,” he said.
Chief Fedorczyk said he never saw a manhunt that size during his time in the borough.
Hanover Area School District Superintendent Andrew Kuhl was on Ashley Street making sure students getting off school buses were arriving safely. The district encompasses the borough of Ashley.
Kuhl said school officials were not aware of the massive police search until the buses were “ready to roll.” He added that officials were sent to various bus stops to ensure students got home safely.
Police in Hazleton said officers were patrolling the area of Hazleton Area High School on West 23rd Street on Thursday when they were flagged down by a person who was shot at. A window on the victim’s vehicle was reportedly struck by a large-caliber bullet. Police said the gunfire occurred in the area of Lincoln and 12th streets.
The shooting suspects were identified as De La Cruz-Gross, Scarly Hiciano-Rivera, and Cesar Joel Brito Polanco. Police said Brito Polanco turned himself in Friday without incident.
De La Cruz-Gross and Brito Polanco were arraigned by District Judge Joseph Zola in Hazleton later Friday.
They were both charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count of simple assault. In addition, Brito Polanco was charged with recklessly endangering another person and terroristic threats.
Hazleton Police Chief Jerry Speziale said police are still searching for Hiciano-Rivera.
De La Cruz-Gross and Brito Polanco are lodged in Luzerne County Correctional Facility in lieu of $500,000 cash bail each.
Reach Travis Kellar at 570-991-6389 or on Twitter @TLNews. Reach Melanie Mizenko at 570-991-6116 or on Twitter @TL_MMizenko.