Cortez police chief says suspects fled gas station without paying
SHIPROCK — Two people are dead after a car chase that started late Monday morning in Cortez, Colo., and ended in Shiprock more than 40 miles to the south, according to a press release from the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President.
The suspects fled from a gas station on North Broadway in Cortez without paying a gas bill of approximately $41, Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane said. San Juan County Sheriff's Office detective Lt. Kyle Lincoln said the incident started shortly after 11 a.m.
Cortez police officers pursued the vehicle — a black Nissan Pathfinder with a Florida license plate — south on Broadway, Lane said, and onto U.S. Highway 491.
Deputies from the Montezuma County Sheriff's Office in Colorado and the San Juan County Sheriff's Office, as well as New Mexico State Police patrolmen and Navajo police officers, joined the pursuit on U.S. Highway 491, according to the press release.
The suspects opened fire on deputies as they pursued the vehicle into Shiprock, the release states. Police eventually chased the suspects' vehicle into a dead end on Bluff Road, past Fifth Lane, in Shiprock.
Police found the two people dead in their vehicle at the end of the road, the release states. The vehicle was found by police balanced precariously over an approximately 20-foot ditch and blood was visible on the inside of the driver's door.
Though it was initially suspected the two people were fatally shot by officers, Lincoln said no law enforcement officers fired at the suspects.
He said detectives are working to identify the individuals, a man in his late-20s or early-30s and a young girl. Their bodies have been sent to Albuquerque for autopsies, Lincoln said.
At about 12:10 p.m., a third man was arrested near the intersection of Mesa Farm Road and First Lane. Lincoln said the man was released and is not suspected of being involved in the shooting.
Detectives from the San Juan County Sheriff's Office, the lead agency in the investigation, processed evidence at the scene Monday afternoon. Law enforcement officers from the FBI, the state Motor Transportation Police, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Navajo Nation police were also at the scene.
Two vehicles at the scene — a Navajo police vehicle and a Montezuma County Sheriff's Office vehicle — were damaged by gunfire.
Montezuma County Sheriff's Office patrol deputy Jason Williams told The Daily Times that a bullet struck the front hood of his vehicle during the car chase and ricocheted off the window. He said he was not injured in the incident.
The back window of the Navajo police vehicle was shattered, and a bullet hole could be seen behind the rear driver's side door.
Schools in the Central Consolidated School District and Shiprock Associated Schools, Inc. were on lockdown in the afternoon as a result of the incident.
Staff locked exterior and classroom doors at Nizhoni Elementary, Mesa Elementary, Eva B. Stokely Elementary, Tsé Bit'a'í Middle, Career Prep High and Shiprock High schools, said Central Consolidated School District spokesman James Preminger.
Police also oversaw the release of students at each of the schools, Preminger said.
All afterschool activities at Shiprock schools were canceled, including sports.
Northern Navajo Medical Center was also placed on lockdown for several hours Monday, according to a hospital employee. He said the lockdown was lifted at approximately 2:30 p.m.
In March, Navajo police officer Alex Yazzie was killed and two other tribal officers were injured in a shootout with a 26-year-old man near Red Valley, Ariz. The suspected shooter, Justin Fowler, was also killed in the incident.
Daily Times reporters Noel Lyn Smith and Joshua Kellogg contributed to this story.