UPDATE, 8:22 PM · May 10, 2021: Houston police now have the tiger’s “owner,” Victor Hugo Cuevas, in custody after a high-speed chase. The tiger, however, is still at large. More after the original story.
Original article: The owner and his tiger are now on the run in a white Jeep Cherokee after an intense standoff with an off-duty sheriff and Houston law enforcement.
One set of Houston neighbors are still recovering from a weekend they’ll never forget. After receiving a local emergency alert concerning a “tiger,” Texan Maria Torres was in disbelief. A tiger? In Houston?
“We got in the car and went to check it out,” Torres tells ABC News Monday. But sure enough, as soon as Torres and her family turned onto Ivy Wall Drive, there walked a Bengal tiger down the west Houston street. As is protocol for the last decade, Torres whipped out her cell phone and began recording the tiger.
The tiger was not alone, either. Across the street in the heavily-populated neighborhood was a man brandishing a handheld firearm.
“At first we thought the tiger was walking toward the guys to attack but we realized that he was just trying to go across the street to the house where they were keeping him,” Torres continues. “I’m so glad [the tiger] didn’t get shot,” she notes.
Later, Torres and neighbors were told the man was, in fact, an off-duty sheriff whose intent was to (obviously) protect civilians from the large apex predator.
Torres says the “off-duty cop was very close to” shooting the tiger, but showed incredible restraint.
“How do you not realize that your pet tiger is missing?” she adds. While it is illegal to keep any wild animal in residential captivity (see: tigers are not pets) in Houston, this is the only clear explanation. And it turns out to be the truth, too. Watch the initial encounter below, before we delve into how quickly this situation has escalated Monday:
Off-Duty Sheriff Stands Between Loose Tiger and Civilians
“Get the f–k back inside. F–k you and your f–king tiger!” yells the sheriff as he points his firearm at the confused animal.
Then, a young man appears, his voice squeaking “I’ll get him, I’ll get him” in reply. We now know this to be the tiger’s “owner,” who has been keeping the big cat illegally in this very neighborhood unbeknownst to those in direct proximity to the wild animal. He also happens to have been charged with murder in November of 2020, and is only free due to someone paying his $250,000 bail.
The off-duty sheriff stands his ground at the time, not knowing any of this, and keeps his firearm pointed directly at the tiger should it lash out for any reason.
“He somehow gets notified or gets wind of what’s going on and he ends up going to the scene, and he’s trying to maintain safety out there and keep everybody back and make sure everything’s OK,” Victor Senties tells ABC News Monday.
Eventually, the man (see: convict) lures his tiger back into his home with another individual. Backup was called for and eventually arrived at the scene. The convict and his tiger, however, are now at large.
Senties, a spokesperson for the Houston Police Department, says that “police are actively searching” for the convict and his tiger after they “fled the scene Sunday night.”
Reportedly, the convict placed his tiger into his white Jeep Cherokee and immediately fled the scene once authorities arrived.
“The owner of the tiger then takes the tiger… Puts it inside his white Jeep Cherokee, gets in the car and he flees,” Senties continues. “Our responding units see the vehicle fleeing and they try to initiate a vehicle pursuit but they lose sight of the vehicle.”
Police Ask Houstonians to be ‘On the Lookout’
Houston Police Commander Ron Borza his hoping to charge the owner with “evading police” by Monday’s end. Once charges are filed, the man’s name will be released to the public.
“My main concern right now is focusing on him and finding the tiger because what I don’t want him to do is to harm the tiger,” Borza adds.
Borza also asks fellow Houstonians, and Texans at large, to be on the lookout.
“Obviously, if you see a (Jeep) Cherokee with a big tiger in it, it would be good to call us,” Borza tells ABC News.
As per Houston’s city code of ordinances, it is illegal to house any wild animal inside city limits. This, of course, includes tigers, lions, and all big cats.
Borza adds that the wanted man is also in possession of two monkeys. If under 30 pounds, however, monkeys are legal to possess in Houston. A headscratcher, to be sure, especially considering the whereabouts of the monkeys is currently unknown.
The investigation is being handled by the police department’s Major Offenders Division. The unit has an animal cruelty division, too, which will provide oversight.
UPDATE: Victor Hugo Cuevas in Custody, Tiger at Large
8:22 PM · May 10, 2021: Houston police now have the tiger’s “owner,” Victor Hugo Cuevas, in custody after a high-speed chase. The tiger, however, is still at large.
According to law enforcement, Cuevas, 26, “is charged with felony evading arrest for fleeing from HPD patrol officers this morning.”
Attached to Houston Police’s update is a 2017 booking photo, signaling Cuevas’ long-standing trouble with the law.
As for his tiger, however, HPD urges that “anyone with information” to contact HPD Major Offenders at 713-308-3100.
Here’s to hoping the tiger is safely brought into custody before anyone – including the misfortunate big cat – gets hurt.