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Suspect in fatal shooting of San Diego restaurant employee is arrested in Tennessee

Vigil for Maribel Merino Ibañez
Ramón Mendoza, whose wife Maribel Merino Ibañez was shot and killed by a customer at a Church’s Chicken restaurant in Otay Mesa, embraces another mourner during a candlelight vigil for Ibañez earlier this month.
(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A man who is suspected of shooting three Church’s Chicken employees, killing one of them, over a dispute about money was arrested Friday in Tennessee, San Diego police said.

Albert Lee Blake, 49, was taken into custody at a residence in Memphis, the U.S. Marshals Service said in a release. San Diego investigators who had reached out to federal marshals for help, confirmed the arrest.

“Investigators have been working around the clock since the night of the shooting, which led to a suspect being identified,” San Diego police said in a statement.

A warrant had been issued for Blake’s arrest, charging him with murder in the death of 28-year-old Maribel Merino Ibañez, police said. Investigators did not say how they came to suspect Blake was the shooter or how he was tracked to a city 1,800 miles away.

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Authorities say Blake entered the restaurant in Otay Mesa on Nov. 6 and got into some sort of confrontation over money. A police officer and witnesses said the altercation involved a counterfeit $100 bill, but a Church’s employee who was there during the shooting said Ibañez had simply followed company policy by refusing to accept the $100 bill.

The man left but later returned with a gun and shot three workers — Ibañez and two men — from across the counter. An employee told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the gunman shot Ibañez first, then the men, then turned back to the wounded Ibañez on the floor and shot her again.

The gunman walked out and drove off in a blue car. Authorities released a photo of the car and a description of the suspect. Blake was arrested 16 days later.

Ibañez was a newlywed, just married on March 12 of this year, and had worked at the same Church’s location for about a decade.

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Reached by phone Friday evening, husband Ramon Mendoza said knowing that Blake was in custody left him and others “a little bit more calm.”

“The good thing is they have him,” Mendoza said, speaking to the Union-Tribune in Spanish. “That’s what had me worried.”

He thanked the community for its support, and thanked authorities for pursuing the suspect.

“We’re going to wait and see if justice is served as it should be. We know it’s going to be a long process.”

With the arrest, Blake now faces extradition back to California. San Diego police referred questions to the county District Attorney’s Office, saying that a murder case had been filed.

Figueroa writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune


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