Police identify deceased in high-speed chase that ended in Shiprock

Steve Garrison
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON >> The San Juan County Sheriff's Office has identified two people found dead in Shiprock after Monday's high-speed car chase across state lines as Benjamin James Edwards III and his 14-year-old niece.

As of Tuesday afternoon, police had not released the name of the niece.

Edwards, 31, of St. Augustine, Fla., fled from a gas station in Cortez, Colo., shortly after 11 a.m. Monday in a black Toyota 4Runner with a Florida license plate, according to a press release from the San Juan County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies from the Montezuma County Sheriff's Office attempted to stop the vehicle, but Edwards shot at the patrolmen and fled south on U.S. Highway 491 toward Shiprock, the release states.

Edwards continued to shoot at officers' and civilians' vehicles as he fled down the highway, at one point leaving the roadway and barreling through a fence into private property at mile marker 98, the release states.

The vehicle eventually entered onto Third Lane, or Third Road, in Shiprock and turned onto Bluff Road at a high rate of speed, the release states. Navajo Nation police officers joined the pursuit as the vehicle neared the dead end of Bluff Road, past Fifth Lane, the release states.

Edwards fired multiple shots at a Navajo Nation police vehicle, but lost control of the SUV and almost went off the roadway, the release states.

Navajo Nation police officers caught up to the vehicle as it sat on a drop-off at the side of the road, the release states.

Police ordered the two occupants to exit the vehicle but discovered that both Edwards and the second occupant, his 14-year-old niece, also from St. Augustine, were dead of self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the mouth.

Though officials initially said that Navajo police officers may have shot the suspects, detectives determined that was incorrect, the release states. No officers from any of the involved law enforcement agencies fired on the suspect vehicle, the release states, and no civilians or officers were injured during the pursuit.

San Juan County Sheriff's Office Detective Lt. Kyle Lincoln confirmed Tuesday that detectives suspect both occupants killed themselves.

According to the press release, Edwards was a person of interest in a St. Johns County Sheriff's Office investigation into the theft of a firearm and the disappearance of his niece.

Kevin Kelshaw, a spokesman for the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office in Florida, said information regarding the girl's disappearance was not immediately available, but the girl had been reported missing earlier this month and had a history of running away from home.

Edwards was charged April 29 with damage of property (criminal mischief), burglary and cruelty toward a child.

According to a police report, Edwards confronted a 17-year-old boy in the parking lot of a condominium shortly before 4 p.m. April 29 and demanded money from him.

The boy told police Edwards punched him several times and would not allow him to leave.

Edwards then allegedly grabbed a large pipe wrench from his vehicle and smashed the windows of the boy's car.

He rummaged through the teen's vehicle, the report states, and then fled the scene.

Edwards was contacted by detectives at his home in St. Augustine.

He initially claimed he was repairing condominiums at the time of the assault, but later told police: "(the victim) is selling drugs to my daughter at the bus stop so I came and beat his (expletive)," according to the report.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.