Friends Of Deceased UT Tyler Student Say They Don't Believe He Was A Would-Be Burglar - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

11/12/06-Tyler

Friends Of Deceased UT Tyler Student Say They Don't Believe He Was A Would-Be Burglar

Friends of a UT Tyler student who was fatally shot during an alleged break-in say they think they know why it happened.

Police say the shooting happened when Justin Herrera, 22, of Tyler was trying to break-in into a South Tyler home early yesterday morning in the 900 block of Watkins Street.  According to police reports, the homeowner, Robert Delk, was woken up by someone banging on his door. Officials say Herrera kicked in the front door. Police say Delk shot and killed Herrera.  Herrera was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Herrera's friends, who were with him earlier that night, spoke exclusively to KLTV 7 News. They say they think he was trying to get help at the home, not burglarize it.

About 2:30 yesterday morning, Nathan McCrary and Brian Johnson say they left Herrera at a party. They say he had been drinking pretty heavily.

"I know he had bought a 30 pack maybe three hours earlier, but I know he didn't bring that much with him. I'm assuming he might have had eight or nine (beers)," said McCrary.

Early the next morning, the two found out Herrera had been shot and killed when he allegedly tried to break-in to a home just a few blocks away.

"We called the guy who was supposed to take him home, and he told us that Justin had been dancing with a girl who had a boyfriend," Johnson said.  "Evidently, she told her boyfriend or he saw, and he and some of his friends decided to beat him up."

"I believe Justin, being hurt like he was, just ran away," said McCrary.  "I think he went and tried to get help, and being Hispanic like he is, someone would see him out of their window with no shirt on, think it might be gang related."

Herrera was new to East Texas, having moved here from Ft. Worth. He was a biology major at UT Tyler, and a waiter at Papacita's restaurant. His boss, Lynn Lumley,  says Herrera was one of the best employees she's ever had.  "He always had a good disposition. He was always on time. He was consistently working well. He showed others how to work," said Lumley.

Herrera's past was not squeaky clean. He'd been in and out of jail in Tarrant County a number of times since 2001. His 14-page criminal background includes aggravated assault, car burglary and two D.W.I. charges.

The friends he made in Tyler say he was trying to make a fresh start.  "He was an awesome guy.  He wasn't doing drugs or anything. Then to hear on the news that he was trying to rob the place was a little shocking," said Johnson.

KLTV 7 News spoke with the homeowner, Robert Delk. He said he did not want to comment on the shooting.  The case is under investigation. No charges have been filed.  

Lindsay Wilcox, Reporting.  lwilcox@kltv.com

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