Police Chase of Suspected Kidnapper Leads to Death of Cop, Bystander

A New Mexico police officer and a bystander motorist were killed in fatal car crashes Wednesday during a police pursuit of a suspected kidnapper in the Santa Fe area.

The officer was identified as 43-year-old Robert Duran, whom police said joined the department in January 2015.

"Officer Duran was well respected and loved by his peers," Santa Fe interim Police Chief Paul Joye said. "We as a department and as individuals are still grieving and processing his loss."

Duran's death was a rare and shocking occurrence for a police force that had previously lost only two officers in the line of duty, according to a department Facebook post. Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber said that decades have passed since the Santa Fe Police Department last lost an officer, local news station KRQE reported.

New Mexico State Police identified the motorist on Wednesday as 62-year-old Frank Lovato, a retired firefighter from Las Vegas, New Mexico. He and Duran were both pronounced dead at the scene, according to a press release.

The release added that witnesses reported seeing an unidentified male flee the scene on foot after the crash. The suspect is still at large.

A news release from the department said that shortly after 11 a.m. local time on Wednesday, law enforcement was notified of a kidnapping in progress at an apartment complex in Santa Fe. A man armed with a knife had allegedly stolen a vehicle with a woman inside.

Santa Fe police located the vehicle about 10 minutes later and attempted to stop it, but the driver allegedly fled in the car with the woman still inside, the release said.

Cop, Bystander Killed in Chase
Law enforcement gathers along Interstate 25 as several agencies take part in a search for a suspect who was involved in a kidnapping and high-speed chase that resulted in a Santa Fe police officer being killed on March 2, 2022, near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal via AP

Police pursued the driver, who then allegedly entered Interstate 25, traveling northbound in southbound traffic. The driver switched course between two exits and began traveling southbound on the side, according to the release.

"A crash occurred at Mile Marker 286 in the northbound lane. The crash involved at least four vehicles; two Santa Fe Patrol Units, the fleeing vehicle and an uninvolved vehicle," the release said.

The release said that a Santa Fe police officer and an "uninvolved motorist" were killed in the crash. They did not immediately release their names as they notified their families.

The female victim in the suspected kidnapping was able to exit the vehicle and was taken to a hospital, the release said. She was treated for non-life-threatening injuries and released later, according to New Mexico State Police.

In an update posted on the department's Twitter and Facebook pages, the officer was identified as Duran. He was married with two teenage sons, according to the posts.

"Our condolences are with the family of Robert Duran, and the family of the other driver, lost in today's tragic crash. We humbly ask everyone to please respect the family's privacy at this time and allow them time to grieve," the Facebook post read.

Update 3/3/22, 5:30 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information and background.