ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A purple sport utility vehicle seen driving past a sleeping homeless man as he was ignited by fireworks proved to be an easy find for Albuquerque police.
The July 11 incident was caught on security video, and on Wednesday, officers arrested Joshua Benavidez and Irene Enriquez, both 31, in connection with the attack that left Ruben Abeita with serious burns, police said.
Police didn’t have an update on Abeita’s condition Wednesday night, but he was in the intensive care unit Monday.
Three children under age 13 were in the car with Benavidez and Enriquez at the time, according to an arrest warrant filed in Metropolitan Court.
On Monday, police released video of the purple SUV driving past a figure sleeping around 8 p.m. on the sidewalk at Quincy and Silver SE, near Central and San Mateo.
The man was struck by fireworks and burst into flames, police said.
Tips poured in, said officer Daren DeAguero, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, and several pointed to Benavidez as the owner of the SUV.
“There aren’t many purple SUVs, and with the public’s help we were able to solve this crime,” he said. “As soon as we broadcast that we were looking for the SUV, we started getting tips from the dispatch center, the public and media tips. We were able to narrow it down to these two individuals.”
Benavidez initially denied all involvement, saying he had sold a white Tahoe to “some Hispanic guy” in the South Valley but he didn’t have the paperwork to prove it, according to the warrant.
Neighbors told police the purple SUV was painted white within the last few days.
Benavidez’s son told police he was in the car with his father and Enriquez, as well as Enriquez’s son and a 2-year-old girl, when Benavidez threw the fireworks at Abeita, according to the warrant.
Benavidez began to drive away, but they noticed Abeita’s pants were smoldering and pulled into a nearby Wendy’s restaurant instead. Benavidez’s son said they watched Abeita, who “went back to sleep.”
Enriquez told police that she attempted to get out of the SUV and put water on Abeita but that Benavidez wouldn’t let her, according to the warrant.
The group fled as the situation was getting out of control, the warrant says.
“It’s absolutely disgusting,” DeAguero said. “It was a disgusting act to light someone on fire and run from it.”
Benavidez and Enriquez were asked to go to the Southeast Substation, where they were read their rights and they confessed, DeAguero said.
Both are charged with three counts of child abuse, two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, aggravated battery causing great bodily harm and tampering with evidence.
Police believe this purple Sports Utility Vehicle, seen in surveillance footage released by the Albuquerque Police Department Monday, was involved in an incident where someone hurled fireworks at a sleeping homeless man. Anyone with information about the car or the crime is asked to call police at 843-STOP.