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Suspects in chase, crash that killed retired Las Cruces officer held without bond

From left, Daniel Allen Lowell, 34, and Trista Marie Schlaefli, 32. (Source: Doña Ana County Detention Center)

LAS CRUCES — Two suspects facing multiple charges for a carjacking and deadly high-speed chase and crash that claimed the life of retired Las Cruces police officer are being held without bond.

New Mexico State Police identified 34-year old Daniel Allen Lowell and 32-year-old Trista Marie Schlaefli, both of Colorado Springs, Colo., as the man and woman allegedly involved in a crime spree Monday that started when the pair ran a Border Patrol highway checkpoint on Interstate 10 near Las Cruces and ended with a crash that killed a 35-year veteran of the Las Cruces police force.

Retired officer J.R. Stewart was riding his motorcycle when the alleged carjackers hit him as they tried to flee from police. He died at the hospital from his injuries.

According to arrest records, Lowell was driving. He’s facing 18 separate charges, including homicide by vehicle, child abuse, armed robbery, aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer, aggravated assault, concealing identity, leaving the scene of a crash, and receiving or transferring a stolen motor vehicle.

At the time of his arrest, Lowell also had several separate arrest warrants out of Colorado for numerous charges, including attempted murder, burglary, felony evading and identity theft.

Schlaefli is facing 10 charges, including homicide by vehicle, armed robbery, aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer, concealing identity, attempt to commit a violent felony and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle.

During her initial court appearance Tuesday, Schlaefli slouched in a chair and said, “Not guilty.” Earlier, Lowell quietly entered a “denial” of charges and said, “No, your honor” when Magistrate Judge Jeanne Quintero asked if he had any questions about why he was being denied bond.

The calm demeanor was in sharp contrast to arrest records that detail the couple carjacking a Toyota 4-Runner at gunpoint on I-10 with a family inside. The father remained in the driver’s seat with the gun pointed at his head and refused to leave the vehicle until his wife removed their two children — ages 7 and 2 — from the back seat. They allegedly tried to carjack a second vehicle later, but the occupants refused to leave.

Lowell told police he and Schlaefli had been smoking methamphetamine and heroin in the stolen vehicle before they rammed into Stewart, according to their arrest warrants.

J.R. Stewart, retired police officer from the Las Cruces Police Department. (Photo courtesy of the Las Cruces Police Department)

Stewart, who retired from the Las Cruces Police Department in 2014 and twice ran for Doña Ana County sheriff, had spent most of his career as a motorcycle traffic cop with “never a scratch,” said Las Cruces Police Chief Jaime Montoya.

Montoya rushed to the hospital Monday when he heard Stewart was critically injured.

“His wife told me last night when I was at the hospital that he bled blue,” he said.

More than 100 police officers, both active duty and retired, also showed up at the hospital to pay their last respects before he died, Montoya said.

“People just loved him, loved everything about him,” the chief said.