MADERA – Sheriff Jay Varney announced today that one of the suspects from the robbery and murder at the Tackle Box Bait & Mini-Mart in Madera has been arrested. Armitraj Singh Athwal (22) of Modesto, was arrested by Fresno County Sheriff Deputies on an unrelated offense, near Kerman, just 40 minutes after the robbery and murder at the Tackle Box in Madera.
A Fresno County Deputy Sheriff saw media coverage of the incident on Tuesday and recognized some similarities between the suspects from the Tackle Box incident and the suspect they arrested on Tuesday morning. Madera County Detectives were contacted and follow up investigation revealed that Athwal is likely the suspect who shot the victim during the robbery.
A Madera County arrest warrant was obtained for Athwal and he will be transferred to the Madera County Department of Corrections once he is released from the Fresno County Jail.
Detectives are still investigating the homicide that occurred at the Tackle Box just outside of the city of Madera on Road 26. Two masked suspects stole cases of cigarettes and cash late Monday night before firing several shots from a handgun in the store, one of the bullets striking and killing a lone cashier.
The entire incident was caught on surveillance video which also showed one of the suspects face when his mask fell off. A second suspect with a white mask was seen with a handgun in his hand when he entered the store. Deputies believe the suspects knew what they were after and where to find it in the store when they entered. This may indicate the suspects were familiar with the store and may have been known to the clerk.
Madera County Sheriff Jay Varney said the cashier was alone at the time of the robbery and from the video appeared to be fully cooperative with the suspect. The sheriff also said did not believe the clerk was armed and did not try to stop the robbery or be a "hero". He said he thought the shooting of the clerk was a senseless cowardly act.
The sheriff said the quality of the surveillance video is excellent and has been very helpful in piecing details together. Pictures taken from surveillance cameras show one of the suspects carrying several boxes of cigarettes, wearing a white bandana. The other one appears to have a revolver in his hand and initially a blue bandana over his lower face. At one point the video reveals one of the robber's (Athwal) faces after his bandana fell.
Cmdr Bill Ward of the Madera County Sheriff’s Department said one bandit was wearing a black jacket, gray pants and socks with no shoes. The second was wearing a black Reebok sweatshirt, black pants and black and white shoes. Both suspects wore gloves. The shooter was armed with a silver-colored revolver.
Around forty minutes after the suspects left the Tackle Box in Madera, a Fresno County Deputy Sheriff pulled up on a burgundy Toyota pickup truck stuck in the sandy dirt along side Ashland Avenue near Highway 145. Athwal approached the deputy and appeared to be intoxicated. A search of the vehicle produced a blue bandana, several boxes of cigarettes, a small quantity of methamphetamine and two handguns. One of the handguns had three spent cartridges. The suspect was taken into custody for driving under the influence and weapons charges and booked into the Fresno County Jail.
The deputy had no knowledge of the shooting in Madera until he was off duty later that morning and saw the social media posts about the shooting and saw the similarities of his suspect and the suspect in Madera. After contacting Madera Sheriff's Detectives, Athwal was transferred to the Madera County Department of Corrections and charged with murder.
The local Sikh Community has identified the victim as Dharam Jassar. The mini mart employee in his early 20s and moved to the United States from India with a student visa to study at Fresno State. Sheriff Varney said “Dharampreet was a completely innocent victim, just doing his job, when he was senselessly killed during this robbery.”
Detectives continue to search for the second suspect and any further information related to this case. Athwal’s vehicle was stored and will be processed for evidence. Surveillance video shows a man in a white Acura drove up during the robbery, then backed up and sped off. The witness and anyone else with information is asked to call deputies at (559) 675-7770 or Crime Stoppers at (559) 498-7867.