Authorities don’t yet know why a New Mexico police officer in a small village famous for its green chile and not much more pulled over two Ohio murder suspects before being gunned down.
But the daytime encounter with Jesse Hanes and James Nelson on Friday turned out to be deadly for one of the eight police officers in Hatch, 190 miles south of Albuquerque.
Officer Jose Chavez, 33, was shot dead at a convenience store in front of a fellow officer who had just arrived, authorities said.
The suspected shooter is Hanes, 38, who along with Nelson was wanted in Ohio in the July 25 shooting death of a 62-year-old man just outside Chillicothe, about 60 miles south of Columbus.
Ohio authorities had said that Hanes and Nelson, 36, were believed to have fled the state and were armed and extremely dangerous, warning that the two men have a violent criminal history.
It’s unclear whether Chavez, a father of two children who joined the Hatch Police Department two years ago, knew the suspects were wanted in Ohio.
A fellow officer who arrived to assist just as Chavez was shot reported seeing him with paperwork and appearing to draw his service weapon before smoke filled the air and Chavez fell to the ground.
Chavez was shot in the neck and airlifted to University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, where he later died.
Dona Ana County Sheriff Enrique ‘Kiki’ Vigil said Chavez went through training at the department’s academy in 2013 and that he was considered one of their own.
“We’re not gonna allow these folks to get away. We’ve lost one of our best,” Vigil said.
Police arrested Nelson and were waiting for Hanes to be released from the hospital to book him on state charges, sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Jameson said. Hanes was treated for a gunshot wound to the right thigh which appeared to be self-inflicted, she said.
Hanes’ arrest came after a dramatic car pursuit, a carjacking and the shooting of a bystander whose car Hanes stole, police said.
Hanes was driving a luxury car when Chavez pulled him over at a gas station shortly before 4 p.m. Friday.
Chavez was standing outside the passenger’s door when Hanes reached through the window and shot him, police said. Nelson was the passenger. A third man who police said had been hitchhiking is being treated as a witness and won’t face charges.
Hanes then fled on Interstate 25 at speeds up to 100 miles per hour before stopping at a rest area, authorities said. He carjacked a 36-year-old man, shooting him in the stomach after the man refused to accompany him, police said. That man has not been identified but is in stable condition at an El Paso, Texas, hospital and could be released Saturday, Jameson said.
Hanes fled on his own after shooting the man, but sheriff’s deputies were able to stop him by using a tire-deflating device. The suspect crashed the vehicle into a pile of wood and briefly barricaded himself in the car before surrendering to deputies, Jameson said.
Nelson and the hitchhiker were found about 7 miles away near Rincon.
Jameson says she doesn’t know why Chavez initiated the stop. His body has been escorted to Albuquerque, where the medical examiner will conduct an autopsy Monday. An Albuquerque funeral business has offered to provide free services, Jameson said.
Dona Ana County Sheriff’s deputies have taken over public safety duties in Hatch while the small police department mourns Chavez’s death.
“There’s a total of eight (officers) out there. Today there’s seven,” Vigil said.
Gov. Susana Martinez said the killing of Chavez is heart-breaking. “Our hearts break for the loss of a brave law enforcement officer senselessly killed while doing his job–protecting us. As the wife and daughter of law enforcement officers, I know the law enforcement community will pull together to support one another and Officer Chavez’s family,” Martinez said in a statement Saturday afternoon.
Hanes was 16 and living in Columbus when he pleaded guilty in 1995 to involuntary manslaughter and other charges. He was sentenced to prison and released at 32. He went to prison again in 2014 after pleading guilty to robbery and was released in April 2015.
Nelson, who also goes by “JD,” has a string of drug-related convictions in central Ohio dating back to the mid-1990s.
Associated Press writer John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, contributed to this report.
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