Deadly hit-and-run case spurred Holland area alert

Ottawa County

HOLLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — An emergency alert sent out to Holland area residents Sunday afternoon left many confused.

The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office sent an alert asking residents to shelter in place as a police operation got underway. There was little information beyond that.

“This was an investigation that we had undertaken, and this involves the investigation of the fatal hit and run crash that happen on 136th Avenue,” Capt. Mark Bennett explained Monday.

Bennett says they were looking for the last suspect in a hit-and-run incident that killed a Zeeland mother of two.

melissa yates
An undated courtesy photo of Melissa Yates.

Investigators say a fight at the 136th One Stop market on 136th Avenue in Holland Township ended with 41-year-old Melissa Yates knocked to the ground and run over by a white Dodge Charger. Yates was taken to the hospital where she later died.

Police say the two men believed to be in the car at the time were 17-year-old Eliud Rey Vazquez and 22-year-old Sebastian Abel Villarreal. While Vazquez has since turned himself in on an assault charge, police continued to search this weekend for Villarreal, who is the suspected hit-and-run driver.

Undated photos of Sebastian Abel Villarreal and Eliud Rey Vazquez. (Courtesy of the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office)
Undated photos of Sebastian Abel Villarreal and Eliud Rey Vazquez. (Courtesy of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office)

To avoid putting any neighbors at risk, they sent the alert. The sheriff’s office says there was no information that residents were in imminent danger, but they wanted to be cautious because the suspect has fled before and has ties to gangs.

“This is the first time that I recall using it (the alert system) for this type of operation,” said Bennett. “I think it’s a tool at our fingertips to further assist the public in keeping them safe and alerting the public as to what’s going on.”

Bennett says there are still some glitches with the system. During Sunday’s operation, alerts went to cellphones outside of the immediate area. Police say they’re working with their technology department before sending out more alerts.

“I think there’s a goal later in 2019 to get these (alerts) based upon cellphone towers that are less than a half mile so that we can direct info like this to a specific area,” he explained.

Officers say they searched the home but did not find Villarreal. Anyone with information regarding his whereabouts is asked to call the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office at 616.738.4000 or Silent Observer at 877.88.SILENT.

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