A law enforcement task force staking out Anthony Garcia had a clear plan.
If he turns south on Interstate 57 toward Louisiana, pull him over.
The reason: He already was the prime suspect in four Omaha killings tied to the former doctor's failed medical career.
Authorities didn't want to see another.
"We were fearful that he would go to Louisiana and harm members of the LSU medical staff," FBI special agent Jonathan Robitaille testified Monday in Douglas County District Court.
The hunch was based on authorities' suspicions of Garcia in Omaha: that the doctor - holding a grudge from his firing at Creighton University Medical Center — had broken into Dr. William Hunter's house and killed his house cleaner, Shirlee Sherman, and Hunter's 11-year-old son, Thomas, in March 2008. Then on Mother's Day 2013, Dr. Roger Brumback and his wife, Mary, were killed in their Omaha home.
Brumback and Hunter had fired Garcia for
several misdeeds, including an alleged attempt to sabotage a fellow resident's medical board exams.
Garcia's history — and police officers' suspicions — led a task force of Omaha police and FBI agents to fear that others connected to the failed doctor might be in danger. Members of the task force set up by Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer worried that Garcia would travel to one of two places: Omaha or Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he had been terminated after Louisiana State University officials found out about his firing from Creighton.
Monday's hearing, in which Garcia's attorneys began to challenge the basis for his arrest, revealed that authorities had strong suspicions in early June of last year. Garcia had motive because of his job grudge, authorities alleged. He also had means to carry out any revenge — a, 45-caliber handgun that he purchased after the Brumback killings, prosecutors said.
The hearing also provided a rare glimpse into how a task force tracked down its target — a saga that involved an empty parking stall, worried FBI agents and a tailgating Mercedes.
According to Monday's testimony:
In early June 2013, authorities applied for a search warrant so they could trace Garcia's phone via a "ping" on the GPS chip.
On July 13, Omaha police detectives drew up a warrant for Garcia's arrest in the slayings.
On July 14, FBI agents and Omaha police traveled to Terre Haute, Indiana, where Garcia had lived.
Soon, they obtained information about where Garcia's phone had last pinged: the Comfort Inn motel near Salem, Illinois, about two hours southwest of his home.
The working plan the Omaha police and FBI formulated: Continue to monitor Garcia. If he heads back to Terre Haute, keep a comfortable distance.
If he turns south for Louisiana or west for Omaha, pounce.
At the Comfort Inn, they found Garcia's black Mercedes SUV in the parking lot.
From a hotel window nearby, Robitaille and FBI agent Kevin Hytrek watched Garcia's car until about 11 p.m. July 14.
They set their alarm for 5 a.m. July 15 to resume the stakeout. The next morning, Hytrek woke up three minutes before his alarm and looked out the window.
Garcia's SUV was gone.
Hytrek woke Robitaille, and the two FBI agents raced out of the hotel. They frantically asked for GPS coordinates of the last ping. However, the ping had a hiccup: It was able to get GPS coordinates only every half hour.
They sped south, zipping 100 mph down Interstate 57, Robitaille testified. They scanned the Interstate but couldn't see Garcia's SUV.
Then came news of the last ping: It registered at Benton, Illinois.
The FBI agents quickly realized they had to whip a U-turn. They were a half-hour farther south than Garcia.
So they sped back north on 1-57.
At that point, the sun was coming up, and they were quickly scanning the southbound lanes for a black Mercedes SUV.
They soon spotted the vehicle they were looking for.
Robitaille said Hytrek, who was driving, headed back south.
He tried to keep a comfortable distance so as not to tip off Garcia that he was being tailed.
"We were probably within about 200 to 300 yards of Garcia's vehicle," Robitaille said.
However, Robitaille said, keeping a comfortable distance soon became difficult.
The SUV was tailgating a semitrailer in the right-hand lane. And it was going about 10 to 15 mph below the speed limit, he said.
The agents became concerned.
"We did not want to pass Dr. Garcia," Robitaille testified. "We did not want Dr. Garcia to notice that we were following him."
And they were concerned about something else.
"We didn't think he was on a job-hunting trip," Robitaille said. "We felt he was on his way to Louisiana. ... We feared that he would try to kill (people) associated with LSU down in Louisiana."
FBI agents also were concerned that Garcia was only three exits and about 36 miles from leaving Illinois. Then he would be in Missouri, with a whole new set of law enforcement officials they would have to get up to speed.
Robitaille made a couple of phone calls, ultimately asking for the assistance of the Illinois State Patrol.
All the while, they trailed Garcia.
At one point, the SUV signaled to exit 1-57. However, Garcia figured out that the exit was actually for a truck weigh station, Robitaille said, and veered back onto the Interstate.
Meanwhile, two state troopers, Jeff Agne and Roger Goines, moved their cruiser into position on an Interstate overpass.
Robitaille advised the state troopers that the SUV was tucked so close behind the semi they might have a hard time locating it.
Robitaille soon gave word to Agne that Garcia was exiting on one of the last exits in Illinois, Lick Creek Road.
Video showed Garcia get off onto Lick Creek Road until, Robitaille said, it appeared that he spotted the state troopers. He quickly cut across the road to an entrance ramp back onto 1-57.
In court Monday, Garcia shifted in his seat to view video of the last time he walked as a free man.
A trooper's dash-camera video showed this:
Weapons drawn, the troopers and FBI agents order Garcia out of the SUV.
Garcia exits with his hands up — and a stack of papers in his right hand. The papers, it is believed, are his car registration.
Troopers order him to turn around and drop to his knees. Garcia complies.
Inside his SUV: a crowbar, a sledgehammer and an unloaded .45 caliber handgun.
Next to the gun was an unopened package of 50, 45-caliber bullets.
Garcia quickly fesses up to the handgun.
"I believe it's in the passenger side, if I remember correctly," Garcia says.
Still unsure why the FBI wants to arrest Garcia, Goines — whose specialty is drug detection — asks Garcia:
"Anything else besides the weapon?"
"Such as?" Garcia asks.
"Drugs?" Goines asks.
"Oh," Garcia says. "No, no, no, no."
Troopers ask Garcia, who is wearing a blue dress shirt and dark slacks, where he is headed.
"New Orleans," Garcia says.
Garcia soon has a request. Can he use the bathroom?
Troopers escort him to the side of the road, uncuff one of his hands and let him urinate on the side of the road.
The troopers book him for following too closely and driving under the influence.
Garcia's attorney, Robert Motta Sr., asked Monday what basis troopers had to suspect Garcia of drunken driving.
For one, Garcia admitted that he was an alcoholic who "drank from the time he got up till the time he went to bed," Goines testified.
For another, a breath test measured him at .16 — twice the legal limit. A later test at a sheriff's office found that Garcia's blood-alcohol content tested at .13, still above the limit of .08, Agne testified.
And there was yet another thing.
"When he urinated, it smelled just like beer," Goines said.
Motta suggested that the charges of DUI and following too closely were without basis. And he has pointed out that the warrant for Garcia's arrest wasn't issued until hours after the troopers arrested him.
Motta and his team — son Robert Jr. and daughter-in-law Alison — argue that such arrests are without probable cause, and thus Garcia's arrest should be negated.
Robitaille said he would have had Garcia arrested whether he violated any traffic laws or not.
"I still would have had him pulled over," Robitaille said, "because of the probable cause for the arrest of the four homicides in Omaha....
"And our fear that he was going to hurt somebody that day."
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'We were fearful that he would go to Louisiana and harm members of the LSU medical staff. — FBI special agent Jonathan Piobitaille