A couple returning from a hike at La Luz trailhead Tuesday evening had a close call with a double murder suspect trying to evade a nationwide manhunt that started in Mississippi.
Lt. Keith Elder, a spokesman for the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office, said the man and woman were carjacked and briefly abducted and the man was shot, but the pair escaped with minor injuries. Their names have not been released.
The suspect, later identified as Alex Deaton, 28, of Mississippi, was arrested after a chase and fiery crash near Wilson, Kan.
Authorities say he is suspected of two murders and three non-fatal shootings over eight days in three states.
Around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Deaton jumped out from the bushes near the trailhead and held the couple at gunpoint, forcing them into the trunk of their car, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Shortly after, the couple pulled the emergency trunk release and were able to leap out of the car.
But as they tried to flee, Deaton shot the man in the “lower posterior,” recaptured the woman and took her at gunpoint to a nearby home, Elder said.
“Deaton forced the residents to give him the keys to their van which was parked in the driveway,” Elder said. “At the intersection of Tramway Boulevard and Forest Road 333 the female fled from the van towards a Bernalillo County fire marshall that was in the area.”
The hikers were taken to a hospital, where the man was treated for his gunshot wound and the woman was checked for minor injuries. They were released Wednesday, Elder said.
Meanwhile, Deaton abandoned the van and fled in the couple’s white Honda Accord.
Elder said they are still investigating how Deaton wound up in the Sandia foothills.
“How did this guy come from Mississippi to La Luz parking lot is the big question,” he said.
Flight to Kansas
Early Wednesday, Deaton resurfaced in Kansas, still in the stolen Honda.
Officers from the Kiowa County Sheriff’s Office, Pratt Police Department and the Pratt County Sheriff’s Office saw the Honda and gave chase, according to detective Jeff Ward of the Pratt Police Department.
Deaton eluded the police, abandoned the car and ran into a convenience store in Pratt.
There, he shot the store clerk and stole a black Cadillac from the parking lot, Ward said. The Pratt Police Department didn’t have any information on the condition of the clerk Wednesday afternoon.
Kansas Highway Patrol troopers posted up along Interstate 70 until they saw Deaton speed past them in the Cadillac around 8 a.m., said Tod Hileman, a patrol spokesman. The troopers gave chase.
They set up spike strips and used a tactical maneuver to stop the car, Hileman said. It crashed and burst into flames, but Deaton wasn’t injured.
“I feel for the families of the victims of the trail of carnage he left behind him,” Hileman said. “As far as taking him off the streets so he couldn’t do any more harm, that’s an awesome feeling.”
Celebration in Mississippi
When investigators in the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office in Mississippi heard Deaton had been taken into custody, they cheered, said chief investigator Dwayne Thornton.
“We gave out a couple high fives,” he said. “We were really glad to put this to bed.”
The investigation into Deaton’s crime spree started in Brandon, Miss., last week when his girlfriend, Heather Robinson, 30, was found strangled in her apartment, Thornton said.
He said deputies are not sure exactly when she was killed, but her body was found Friday afternoon after her family reported her missing. Thornton said she was probably killed last Wednesday or Thursday.
“She was probably trying to distance herself from him,” Thornton said. “I don’t think he went for it.”
Also on Friday and in Brandon, a female jogger was shot in the leg, Thornton said. She was injured but was expected to recover.
Deputies don’t know why Deaton apparently shot this woman, but they say it appears she was targeted at random.
“From the evidence and certain things we were able to connect those two, and he became a suspect,” Thornton said.
Also, on Feb. 23, the day before Robinson’s body was found, a woman was shot to death in a Baptist church in another Mississippi county about 60 miles away.
And the evidence there also pointed to Deaton, said Sheriff Tommy Waddell of the Neshoba County Sheriff’s Office.
Security footage shows a vehicle matching the description of an SUV that belonged to Deaton’s girlfriend in the parking lot of the church, although the camera is too far away to get a good look at the driver, Waddell said.
He said Brenda Pinter, 69, was found dead in the office of Dixon Baptist Church, where she had a job cleaning every Thursday. He said it doesn’t appear as though anything was stolen from her or from the church.
Investigators don’t think Pinter and Deaton knew each other, although he once lived and worked in Neshoba County.
Waddell said they have no idea why he would have killed her but he is sending investigators to Kansas to talk with him.
Waddell said Deaton doesn’t have a criminal history in Neshoba County but it’s unclear if he does elsewhere.
Thornton, the Rankin County investigator, said multiple agencies had been looking for Deaton, but it wasn’t until he carjacked the couple at La Luz that they picked up his trail again.
He said he’s glad Deaton didn’t kill anyone else during his run from the law.
“These are all innocent victims that had nothing to do with him,” Thornton said. “Anytime you get someone this ruthless you don’t know what he’ll come up with.”