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Refugio police chief honored with song about shoot out

By BY J.R. ORTEGA - JRORTEGA@VICAD.COM
Aug. 24, 2011 at 3:24 a.m.
Updated Aug. 25, 2011 at 3:25 a.m.

Refugio Police Chief Andy Lopez Jr. was involved in a shoot out at this spot along U.S. Highway 77 in Refugio in 1991 when he was working as a Department of Public Safety trooper. A Refugio-based band, Smiley y La Fuerza Musical, recently wrote a corrido, or Mexican ballad, about the shoot out.

WHERE TO BUY THE CD?

The CD can be purchased at www.haciendarecords.com or at some retail stores.

REFUGIO - Leaning back in his leather seat, Andy Lopez Jr. tickles the air, pretend-motioning the notes of an accordion-heavy song - his song.

"Se llama Andres Lopez Jr., el jefe de policia, en el pueblo de Refugio, hombre del ley todavia," starts the corrido, or Spanish ballad.

The song was written by Smiley y La Fuerza Musical, a South Texas band, and it's opening lyrics translated into English speak truth: Lopez is the chief of police in Refugio and he's still a man of the law despite a 1991 shoot-out that gained national attention.

"For someone to write a ballad about what you've experienced...I'm humbled," Lopez said when a member of the band presented him with the CD. "It's an honor."

THE SHOOTOUT

Sept. 21, 1991, may look like a random date for most people, but for Lopez it is an unforgettable day even almost 20 years later.

Lopez, a tall and sturdy, brawny man, gets chills each time he tells the story of that night, the night he was forced to end a man's life to save his own.

Lopez was a Department of Public Safety state trooper at the time and had just finished supper.

His favorite spot to patrol was the stretch of U.S. Highway 77 between Woodsboro and Refugio.

Pulling over a car for a defective head lamp seemed harmless, but in minutes that changed.

Lopez asked for the men, who were undocumented, to open the trunk and smelled a strong odor of marijuana.

"You can tell that they were nervous and apprehensive," Lopez recalled.

One of the men pulled out a handgun and immediately Lopez shoved the man to the side and ran across the highway, dodging the rounds of ammunition the man was emptying out.

Lopez managed to wield his gun as he ran and shot back, fatally wounding one of the men.

The shoot-out continued for several more minutes and Lopez's right rib cage was grazed by a bullet as two of the men escaped into the brush country of Refugio County.

The entire ordeal was recorded on the police dashboard camera and eventually aired on outrageous-caught-on-tape television shows.

Lopez was later awarded the medal of valor, at the time the only Hispanic to have received the honor.

To date, Lopez travels that stretch of road without a second look.

This is because exactly one year after the incident, Lopez made himself stand in the same exact spot.

"I must have been standing there 10 to 15 minutes and not one car passed by," he said. "That's where I could have lost my life."

POST SHOOT-OUT

Lopez exhales and relaxes into his chair soon after sharing the story.

Lopez has grown somewhat tiresome of constantly sharing the story of that night.

To date, the tape of the shoot-out is shown by the Texas Department of Public Safety as a training video.

Now, Lopez also has this ballad to tell that story.

"You don't want to put a positive light on the shoot-out, but it's a fact of life," he said.

Smiley Cuellar, who does vocals and plays accordion for the band, approached Lopez with the idea in April.

The CD was released in mid-August and has the ballad to the chief as the cover.

The CD includes other unrelated songs.

"We had a new chief in town and I said, 'Let me see what this chief is all about,'" Cuellar said.

Having the ballad is almost like a second closure for Lopez.

"They'll be playing this 20 years from now," Lopez said with a smile.

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