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Texas sheriff's deputy killed while buying food for his sister's birthday celebration

Darren Almendarez, 51, who served in the auto theft unit, died following a gunfire exchange with suspects who were attempting to steal part of his truck, authorities say.
Deputy Darren Almendarez
Deputy Darren Almendarez.Harris County Sheriff's Office

An off-duty Texas sheriff’s deputy who worked in the auto theft unit died after being shot during a confrontation with multiple people trying to steal his truck’s catalytic converter, authorities said Friday.

Deputy Darren Almendarez, 51, was shopping for groceries with his wife Thursday night as they prepared to host a cookout to celebrate his sister's birthday the following day, according to tweets from Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

As the couple exited the Houston-area grocery store, Almendarez told his wife to run away after encountering three people trying to steal his truck’s catalytic converter. He was shot during an exchange of gunfire with the suspects, according to Gonzalez.

Almendarez was taken to a hospital in critical condition, where he died a few hours later, Gonzalez said.

The Harris County Sheriff's Office confirmed his death Friday morning.

Almendarez was an agency veteran of 23 years, serving in the auto theft unit for the past year. The agency recently showcased his work in the auto theft unit in a ride-along video published Jan. 7.

In it, Almendarez demonstrates what a day at his job looks like, and gives people tips on how to avoid buying a stolen car as the market grows for used vehicles.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement Friday that two of the three suspects involved in the shooting that led to Almendarez's death have been apprehended, while the third one remains at large.

“Deputy Darren Almendarez lost his life while answering the call to serve and protect his fellow Texans, and this tragedy is a heartbreaking reminder of the sacrifices our law enforcement officers make both on and off duty,” he said. “The State of Texas is ready to provide all resources necessary to bring justice to the family and loved ones of Deputy Almendarez."

The two suspects who were apprehended were also taken to the same hospital where Almendarez was treated for his wounds. That's where the Harris County Sheriff's Office took them into custody, Telemundo Houston reported. One of them was in serious condition and the other in critical condition.

Gonzalez told reporters Thursday night that Almendarez graduated from Milby High School in Houston. When the deputy was younger, he worked at a fast-food restaurant as he tried to make ends meet and even faced homelessness for a period of time.

Almendarez was a hero who "committed his life to public service and to being a law enforcement officer," Gonzalez said.

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