CROWNPOINT, N.M. – Three men have been charged with two counts of first-degree murder following a shooting and robbery spree that left two people dead along Interstate 40 east of Albuquerque July 23.
Merle Ramone, 27, Deon Secatero, 18, and Lyle Apachito, 18, all Navajos from To’hajiilee (formerly known as Ca?oncito), are being held in Bernalillo County. Ramone was held without bond in the county detention center. Secatero’s bond was set at $275,000 and Apachito’s at $175,000.
State police spokesman Lt. Pete Kassetas told reporters the killings came during planned robberies that escalated, adding that the men wanted money to go to Albuquerque, but didn’t know why they wanted to go.
An arrest warrant affidavit filed July 24 showed Ramone allegedly told his aunt “he had done something crazy.” It said Ramone told state police investigators he was upset about the loss of his job and the fact his truck was going to be repossessed.
Police reported an initial robbery failed when a man resembling Ramone’s description attempted to rob a man sitting with his son in a car along a rural road. The man was able to push the rifle out of his face and escape.
The lethal crime spree allegedly started with a failed attempt to rob the To’hajiilee Food store and continued as the suspects went to three gas stations along I-40 demanding fuel and money. Shots were fired at To’hajilee, but no one was hit.
After confrontations at two of their three stops, two store clerks lay dead. Local newspaper accounts had reported that a third victim was shot and wounded during a fourth robbery, but Police Sergeant Ed Marble of the Crownpoint Police Department said he was aware of two only victims, both of whom were pronounced dead at the scene.
The police affidavit reports that Ramone and Secatero then entered The Bowlin’s Trading Post east of Albuquerque at about 3:30 p.m. July 23. Secatero gave clerk Sharon Platero money and asked for the gasoline pumps to be turned on. He left and went into the restroom. Ramone came into the store with a rifle and demanded gas. Platero told Ramone the pump was turned on and escaped to an office.
The affidavit says she heard Ramone demand money from her co-worker, Linda Chavez, 54, who told him, “I’ll give you anything you want.” Platero heard gunshots and when she left the office she found Chavez dead.
The trio allegedly then went to the Laguna Travel center where a man matching Ramone’s description demanded money and gasoline from clerk Athena Cheromiah. His demands drew the attention of store manager Allen McDonald, 56, who refused to give the man either gas or money. he affidavit states the man then shot him, walked around the counter and shot McDonald again.
The three attempted to escape to the reservation some 26 miles west of Albuquerque.
Police pursued the suspect vehicle witnesses described and observed it heading west on I-40. It turned off at the To’hajilee exit, then headed north on BIA road 56. At that point helicopters joined in the pursuit and saw the pickup pull up to a house in a subdivision. They reported that at least two people got out of the truck and the driver pulled away and headed west again.
Ramone was the first to surrender to police following a high-speed chase, which included several law enforcement agencies and helicopters from U.S. Customs and local television stations. Television camera crews in the helicopter taped the pursuit. Footage showed what looked like the driver firing out of the truck’s windows as he fled from police.
The chase ended when the Ramone turned onto a dirt road and began climbing a ridge where a custom’s helicopter had landed to block the truck. The chase ended when the truck ran off the road down a steep incline. Ramone was taken to the University of New Mexico Hospital for treatment and then to the Bernalillo County Detention Center.
A house-to-house search as begun by law enforcement officials in the community of To’hajilee. A perimeter was set up by police to stop the suspects Secatero and Apachito from fleeing the area.
SWAT teams searched homes in the area late Monday night into early Tuesday, but were unable to locate the suspects. Early Tuesday morning police received a call from Apachito and Secatero saying they wanted to turn themselves in.
The pair led police to a .22 caliber rifle, believed to be the murder weapon, that had been submerged in a pond and $160 buried nearby.
Apachito and Secatero were held in the Crownpoint jail on minor tribal charges until Bernalillo County officials could extradite them. Marble confirmed that Ramone had been in some trouble with the law in the past.