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Suspect in carjacking, murder dead after gunfight with police

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

It began with the carjacking and shooting death of a 64-year-old man outside an auto parts store near Coors and Rio Bravo and ended several hours later with the suspect dead after a gunfight with police and sheriff’s deputies around midnight Wednesday.

In between, there was a chase down West Central in which officers used a spike belt to disable the suspect’s car. He fired at least one shot at officers, police said.

Authorities say an Albuquerque Police Department detective narrowly escaped the gunfire with his life – his bulletproof vest deflected a bullet that spokesman Tanner Tixier said would likely have pierced the officer’s heart.

“The body armor did save his life, and we are very grateful that he’s in good condition at this point,” Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales said at a news conference at the crime scene at 2:30 a.m. Thursday.

As the sun rose Thursday morning on the crime scene, which sprawled along old Route 66 from Unser to 90th, investigators methodically combed through the evidence.

The focus of the scene was a charred red Jeep Patriot riddled with bullet holes, its back window blown out. Lying on the street next to the driver’s side door was the suspect’s body, face up.

Gonzales did not identify the man, but said he was the suspect who shot and killed a man in the parking lot of AutoZone near Coors and Rio Bravo around 7 p.m. Wednesday, then took off with the victim’s car, a red Jeep Patriot.

Victim identified

The man killed at the auto parts store, who a deputy at the scene said “didn’t even make it inside,” was identified as 64-year-old Santiago Romero-Amaya. Gonzales said he appeared to have been chosen at random.

An address for Romero-Amaya found in public records shows that he lived within three miles of the AutoZone store.

After the carjacking, deputies immediately released a description of the suspect, saying he was a younger Hispanic male last seen wearing a red shirt and black hat. Witnesses said that, before the carjacking, he had appeared nervous, pacing in front of a pizza shop and frequently looking around.

At about midnight, several hours after the carjacking, Albuquerque police spotted the stolen red Jeep Patriot near Unser and Central. Gonzales said officers and deputies began chasing the suspect, and used a spike strip to deflate one of the Jeep’s tires. They then did a maneuver near Central and Victory that spun the car back toward officers.

Gonzales said the suspect opened fire on officers and deputies, who fired back. At some point after the spike strip was deployed, the Jeep caught on fire.

A BCSO deputy tried to “render aid” to the victim, but he was pronounced dead at the scene, Gonzales said.

Deputies have not said exactly how the suspect died, but Gonzales said he “would believe” the suspect’s body had gunshot wounds.

Authorities have not said how many law enforcement officers opened fire, or which agencies they were from.

The APD detective whose vest was struck by the bullet was released from the hospital early Thursday with a large bruise, Tixier said.

He said a second officer was also injured during the chase. An officer who threw out a spike belt to try to stop the suspect tore his Achilles tendon and was also taken to the hospital. He was also released Thursday morning, Tixier said.