Officer, retired firefighter killed - Albuquerque Journal

Officer, retired firefighter killed

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Frank Lovato, a husband, father and grandfather, served more than 20 years as a firefighter with the close-knit Las Vegas Fire Department before retiring in 2006.

On Wednesday late morning the 62-year-old was heading northbound on Interstate 25, just outside of Santa Fe, when he was killed in a multiple-vehicle crash involving a suspect fleeing police officers. The vehicles were headed the wrong way on the interstate.

Lovato and Santa Fe Police Department officer Robert Duran of Rio Rancho died at the scene. On Wednesday, a Santa Fe city official had mistakenly referred to the civilian who was killed as a female.

The suspect – who police said had kidnapped a woman at knifepoint and stole her car – fled the scene and was still at large. He has not been publicly identified.

The kidnapped woman was taken to the hospital with non life-threatening injuries and released.

New Mexico State Police, which took over the investigation, said the events leading up to the crash were still under investigation by its uniform bureau and crash reconstruction unit.

“NMSP does not believe that there is an ongoing threat to the public,” said officer Ray Wilson, a State Police spokesman. “State Police Investigators have been working diligently throughout the night and days since the incident to sort through evidence and witness statements to determine a sequence of events leading up to the incident.”

‘Exact definition of a public servant’

Lovato began his career with the Las Vegas Fire Department as an 18-year-old volunteer firefighter.

In 1983, at the age of 24, he was hired as a paid firefighter and worked his way up the ranks until he retired as an engineer in 2006, according to interim Fire Chief Steven Spann.

“When the firefighters in our department and community speak of Engineer Lovato it becomes clear that he was an example for all of us on the true meaning of brotherhood in the fire service,” Spann wrote in a news release. “They describe him as selfless and down to earth and a great people person the exact definition of a public servant. He would always enjoy telling the crew’s stories any chance he got.”

Frank Lovato. (Courtesy of Mayor Louie Trujillo)
Frank Lovato. (Courtesy of Mayor Louie Trujillo)

Spann said even after Lovato retired he “never stopped being a firefighter” and would come by, visit the crews and drink a cup of coffee.

Billy Montoya, who recently retired after serving as chief of the Las Vegas Fire Department for the past six years, said when he was a rookie in the early 2000s, he worked with Lovato.

He said Lovato was a mentor to him and others.

“When I heard the bad news the first thing that popped into my head was we definitely lost a good person,” Montoya said. “He was always willing to help somebody, whether it be buying someone a meal, giving someone down on their luck a few bucks, whatever he could serve he always served.”

Montoya said others from the fire department have been checking on Lovato’s family and sending their condolences.

“Two heroes were lost that day in that tragic event,” he said.

The news of Lovato’s death reverberated around Las Vegas. The Fire Department announced it would retire his badge number – 27.

“As the news rolls out into the community it’s shocking,” Mayor Louie Trujillo said. “This is very hard news for our community.”

A devastating loss

Duran, 43, joined the Santa Fe Police Department as a cadet in 2015.

He leaves behind a wife and two teenage sons.

Duran, a patrol officer who also served as a member of the department’s Emergency Response Team, was described by colleagues as well respected and loved.

Santa Fe Police Officer Robert Duran, 43, killed pursuing a kidnapping suspect on Interstate 25 on March 2, 2022. (Source: Santa Fe Police Department)
Robert Duran

“We are devastated. There are no words to accurately describe the loss our department is feeling, to lose one of our own is heartbreaking,” said interim Chief Paul Joye.

Duran’s family set up a GoFundMe to support his wife and sons. By Thursday afternoon it had already surpassed its $10,000 goal.

The site was set up by Duran’s niece, who said he was always the life of the party at every family gathering and was always there supporting his loved ones through their accomplishments.

“He had always wanted to join law enforcement and when he finally did back in 2015, we were all so proud and happy for him for finally accomplishing his dream,” the site said. “My Uncle Robert always knew how to make everyone laugh and was such an amazing person to be around. We are all so grateful and lucky for the memories that he leaves us with.”

The wrong way

Few new details were released about the kidnapping, the crash, the suspect or the search Thursday.

The incident started shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday when a woman was reportedly kidnapped and her car was stolen from the Rancho Vizcaya Apartments near St. Francis Drive and Interstate 25.

Officers spotted the car nearby and tried to stop it, but the suspect fled and got on Interstate 25, heading northbound in the southbound lanes. Then, between the Old Pecos Trail exit in Santa Fe and the Eldorado exit, police say the suspect began driving southbound in the northbound lanes.

The crash occurred at mile marker 286 and officials said several vehicles – including two Santa Fe patrol units, the white suspect vehicle, Lovato’s pickup truck and a blue car – were involved.

The driver in the blue car was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Witnesses said the suspect fled on foot and was wearing a red shirt, black pants and a black jacket.

Wilson, the State Police spokesman, said during the investigation a BOLO (“be on the look out”) that was only supposed to be shared with law enforcement detailing a potential suspect was released on social media.

He said investigators contacted that person – Mark Thomas Lopez – and after a thorough investigation, he was ruled out as a suspect.

“Since the BOLO was disseminated to law enforcement agencies across the state, it is unknown who posted it to social media,” Wilson said.

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