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Durango fugitive suspected of shooting Farmington officer is arrested in Phoenix

Elias Buck spent 19 days on the run after escaping from the La Plata County Jail
Elias Buck
Jan 23, 2022
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A Durango man who is suspected of escaping from the La Plata County Jail and shooting a Farmington police officer while on the run was captured Friday morning in Phoenix.

The Phoenix Police Department received a tip just after midnight that Elias Buck and Victoria “Rossi” Hernandez were at a Quiktrip Convenience Store, 8004 N. 27th Ave. in Phoenix, according to a news release from the Farmington Police Department.

“Phoenix Police Department received a tip of his location. I don’t know how it came in to them, but that’s what prompted them to respond to that location,” said Nicole Brown, a spokeswoman for the Farmington Police Department, in an interview with The Durango Herald.

Officers responded and located Buck, who attempted to flee, but he was quickly detained. No officers were injured during his arrest, according to the release. But Brown said Buck faces charges of resisting arrest and battery of a police officer in Arizona.

Hernandez

Hernandez was released pending the investigation. It was not immediately known whether Hernandez will face criminal charges.

“There is going to be more investigation into that,” Brown said. “New Mexico laws on aiding and abetting are pretty complex.”

She added: “They obviously didn’t get down to Phoenix on their own. They probably had help. So we’re going to be investigating this fully into anyone that assisted them and what charges we can bring to that.”

Buck was first arrested Dec. 7 on suspicion of motor vehicle theft and was being held at the La Plata County Jail. But on Dec. 27, he scaled a fence and fled on foot, according to the Sheriff’s Office. He was discovered missing during a head count shortly after the escape.

Buck was serving in the jail’s trustee program, which allows certain inmates to perform jobs around the jail, such as working in the kitchen or mopping floors. Inmates in the program have more ability to move about the jail with a lower level of supervision.

On the night of Jan. 7, while on the run, Buck is suspected of shooting a Farmington Police Department officer in the right arm when the officer approached him and 28-year-old Hernandez on foot about a possible drunken driving incident.

Officer Joseph Barreto returned fire, but there was no evidence on scene suggesting the officer hit Buck or Hernandez as they fled, according to the Farmington Police Department.

The shooting set off a large-scale manhunt that involved federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The night of the shooting, San Juan County launched a helicopter, and the New Mexico State Police used a drone to search for Buck and Hernandez.

Police received a “pretty consistent stream of tips” about Buck’s possible whereabouts during the week after the shooting, Brown said. “They were all chased down and looked into,” she said.

Multiple law enforcement agencies conducted search operations from Jan. 7 through at least Thursday. At least one of those include an evening helicopter search in the Farmington area.

The U.S. Marshals Service offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to Buck’s arrest. Likewise, the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Brown was unsure whether the nature of the tip provided to the Phoenix Police Department would enable someone to collect the reward money.

An arrest warrant had been issued accusing Buck of aggravated battery on a peace officer with a deadly weapon.

Barreto

Barreto was taken to a hospital in stable condition and underwent surgery. He has since returned home to recover.

Brown said Barreto briefly visited the Farmington police station on Thursday.

“He’s doing well, he’s in good spirits, he’s eager to get back,” Brown said. “We’ll get him back in the station on a light-duty assignment as soon as we can.”

In a prepared statement Friday, Farmington police Chief Steve Hebbe said he looks forward to working with prosecutors in seeking justice. “This is the culmination of a very emotional week for FPD,” he said.

Brown thanked the community and law enforcement partners.

“It’s been a long week, and we’re relieved that he’s in custody and is no longer a threat to any community,” she said.

Law enforcement agencies involved in the manhunt and eventual arrest included the U.S. Marshals Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; FBI; New Mexico State Police; Colorado State Patrol; San Juan County and La Plata County sheriff’s offices; and the Durango, Aztec and Bloomfield police departments.

“FPD wants to extend a special thank you to the officers of the Phoenix Police Department who risked their safety to apprehend this dangerous criminal,” the release said.

shane@durangoherald.com