N.M. police officer dies in pursuit of suspected kidnapper

Officer Robert Duran and an unidentified motorist were killed Wednesday in a four-vehicle interstate crash

Duty Death: Robert Duran - [Santa Fe, New Mexico]

End of Service: 03/02/2022


By Sean P. Thomas
The Santa Fe New Mexican
        
SANTA FE, N.M. — Law enforcement officers from several agencies were still searching late Wednesday for a man suspected of carjacking and kidnapping a woman and leading a reckless chase on Interstate 25 that ended in a deadly four-vehicle crash; killed were Santa Fe police Officer Robert Duran and another driver who has not been identified.

Police said the man had been driving the wrong way on the highway as he fled with his victim late Wednesday morning. He ran from the scene after the crash and managed to evade officers, including those searching in a helicopter.

The woman survived and was taken to a local hospital, police said.

They have not yet released the name of the suspect, who was described as wearing a red shirt, black pants and a black jacket.

Interim police Chief Paul Joye identified Duran at an evening news conference at the crash site, just north of Old Pecos Trail. The 43-year-old officer had joined the force as a cadet in 2015, Joye said, and leaves behind a wife and two teenage boys.

Joye said Duran was assigned to the department's patrol section and served as a member of the emergency response team.

He "was well respected and loved by his peers," Joye said. "We as a department and as individuals are still grieving and processing his loss."

Duran is the third Santa Fe officer who has died in the line of duty, Joye said, adding the last officer fatality occurred in 1933.

Joye met with Duran's family before arriving at the scene for the news conference.

"I don't even have the words to accurately describe what we are all dealing with and going through," he said. "This is a hit for all of us. This is going to take us a while to get through. ... This is just devastating to all of us as a family here."

New Mexico State Police Chief Tim Johnson also spoke at the briefing.

"We're just sickened by this," he said. "It just seems to continue to happen."

Duran's death comes nearly three weeks after a state police officer was wounded in a shooting outside Edgewood and just over a year after state police Officer Darian Jarrott was fatally shot in Southern New Mexico.

State police will take over the search for the suspect, Johnson said, and will help answer calls for service in Santa Fe, along with the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, "so the city can grieve."

In an interview with reporters at the scene earlier Wednesday, Deputy Chief Ben Valdez said the department would not identify the second motorist who died in the crash until family members are notified.

Roadways near the crash site were shut down for most of the day, causing traffic delays, and I-25 remained closed in both directions late Wednesday from Old Pecos Trail to Eldorado. Valdez advised residents in a two-mile radius of the crash scene to stay in their homes and be on alert.

A city alert said southbound traffic was being diverted at the Eldorado exit of I-25. "Travel into Santa Fe can be accessed through State Rd 41 to County Rd 42 to Hwy 14," the alert said.

The incident began with a call to emergency dispatchers at 11:06 a.m. Wednesday reporting a kidnapping at the Rancho Vizcaya Apartments, Valdez said in a news release. "A male armed with a knife was taking a vehicle occupied by a woman."

Around 11:15 a.m., Santa Fe police spotted the suspected vehicle near Sawmill Road and St. Francis Drive. The officers attempted to stop the vehicle, the release said, but the driver fled onto I-25, traveling northbound in the southbound lanes.

"Between the Old Pecos Trail exit and the Eldorado Exit, the driver got on to the northbound lane of traffic traveling southbound," the release said. "A crash occurred at Mile Marker 286 in the northbound lane. The crash involved at least four vehicles; two Santa Fe Patrol Units, the fleeing vehicle and an uninvolved vehicle."

Several area agencies responded to the crash, according to the news release. Among them were the Santa Fe police and fire departments, the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office and fire department, and New Mexico State Police.

The condition of the carjacking victim was unclear. Valdez said he could not confirm her medical status or comment on whether she knew the suspect.

The deputy chief also offered little comment on the department's policies regarding high-speed chases. Every pursuit is reviewed by a committee to determine if any policies were violated, he said.

"At this point, it's too early in the investigation to look into that," Valdez said. "That is something that we will look at through our investigation."

A woman who said she witnessed part of the chase and the aftermath of the crash said she was driving on I-25 south from Eldorado to Santa Fe around 11:30 a.m. when a small, white vehicle suddenly appeared coming straight at her "with cop cars behind it."

The woman, who declined to give her name, said the person driving the white vehicle veered across the median and into the northbound lanes — heading south.

"He was still going incorrectly," she said. "The next thing I see there was vehicles everywhere, including cop cars, and smoke everywhere."

She said at least one vehicle was overturned, and she saw a police officer "with a long weapon" aimed at another vehicle involved in the crash.

Mayor Alan Webber issued a statement Wednesday on the fatal crash.

"Tragically we have lost one of Santa Fe's finest, a devoted police officer who gave his life in the line of duty and in service to this community," Webber said. "Our hearts are heavy, our community shocked and saddened by this tragic loss. We are thinking of his family. We send them our condolences and our love and extend our hands, our hearts and our hugs in sympathy. ...

"We also remember the innocent civilian whose life was lost in this tragedy," Webber continued. "To her family and friends, we send our thoughts and prayers.

"Let there be no doubt that the combined law enforcement officers who are now working on this will find the suspect," he said. "Justice will be done."

At the evening news conference, Webber said it was difficult to find the words to express the sadness the city was feeling.

"We lost a fine officer in a fine department, and the whole city is hurting," he said.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also offered her condolences.

"I am deeply saddened by the death of a Santa Fe police officer today while in the line of duty as well as the tragic death of another motorist," she wrote. "My prayers are with the loved ones of the victims and the Santa Fe Community as a whole."

(c)2022 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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