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Medical examiner confirms deaths at end of high-speed chase were suicide

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator has confirmed that both Benjamin James Edwards III and his 14-year-old niece died as a result of suicide after a high-speed chase Monday that ended in Shiprock, according to a Thursday San Juan County Sheriff's Office press release.

A firearm recovered from the vehicle was also identified as the one reported stolen from the girl's residence in St. Augustine, Fla., on May 4, the release states. Twenty-six spent shell casings were also recovered from the vehicle.

Detectives are still attempting to determine how the pair traveled from Florida to Colorado and where they were staying, but at this point no one else is suspected of being involved in the girl's disappearance, according to the release.

No other crimes have been tied to the 31-year-old man or his niece, according to the release.

As previously reported by The Daily Times, the 14-year-old girl was a chronic runaway reported missing by her mother on May 4, according to a St. Johns County Sheriff's Office official in Florida. Edwards was a person of interest in the girl's disappearance and the girl's family believed he had sexually abused her, authorities said.

On Monday, a deputy from the Montezuma County Sheriff's Office attempted to stop Edwards' vehicle near Cortez, Colo., after learning that he was suspected of stealing gasoline from a local station.

Edwards' shot at the deputy and fled on U.S. Highway 491 toward Shiprock.

Edwards continued to shoot at pursuing law enforcement officers and civilians as he drove into Shiprock, eventually losing control of his vehicle on Bluff Road past 5th Lane.

Navajo police officers approached the immobilized vehicle and found the occupants, Edwards and his niece, dead of self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the mouth.

A third man was arrested near the scene of the incident, but later was determined to have no relation to Edwards or his niece.

Detectives later determined that no law enforcement officers fired shots at Edwards' vehicle and no officers or civilians were injured in the chase.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and stgarrison@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.