The shooting of Lea County Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Tovar on Saturday is linked to two recent homicides in Chaves County. Tovar was struck during an old-style shoot-out as the LCSO and the Hobbs Police Department executed a Chaves County search warrant at 61 E. Everglade Road in Hobbs.
Chaves County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Britt Snyder said the search warrant for the Hobbs residence was issued based on information obtained during their investigation of two bodies found in Chaves County last week. On Nov. 19, a hunter and his son found the first victim near a well site along N.M. Highway 249 east of Hagerman. On Nov. 21, a county employee reported a burning corpse next to Buffalo Valley Road, east of Lake Arthur.
Both bodies were sent to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Albuquerque. Snyder reported on Tuesday that the body located Nov. 21 has been identified as Mark T. Walters, 48, of Artesia. “They found him through his fingerprints,” said Snyder.
The LCSO and HPD had been told this was a “high risk” warrant and called in the Special Weapons and Tactics. After the SWAT team deployed flash bangs, subjects started firing from inside the recreational vehicle.
According to the criminal complaint, officers discharged about eight rounds while the subjects in the RV shot about 18 rounds. During the gunfire, Tovar was hit in the right arm and neck. He was airlifted to University Medical Center in Lubbock for treatment of his injuries and released.
Seven subjects exited the RV and were questioned by law enforcement. After investigation, New Mexico State Police arrested Juan Uribe-Vidal, 25, of Hobbs, and James Gomez, 22, of Hagerman, for the shooting of the Sheriff’s deputy.
One witness told officials that at some point during the incident, Gomez had a gun in his belt. Court records state that Gomez reported to investigators that there were several guns in the RV. He said Uribe-Vidal was using a .223 caliber rifle to fire at police. He said that the rifle jammed and Uribe-Vidal gave Gomez a gun to fix it. Gomez reportedly fired two rounds through the wall of the trailer. He also noted that he had helped Uribe-Vidal load a handgun and may have fired that weapon.
Uribe-Vidal denied firing a weapon at officers and said he saw no one inside the RV shooting any weapon. However, a later search of the residence revealed 11 firearms and what is called an improvised explosive device.
Snyder said that search warrant was issued because Uribe-Vidal is a person of interest in connection with the two recent homicides. “He has not been charged with anything,” Snyder said. The Chaves County SO has processed the two vehicles, a Cadillac Escalade and a Pontiac Trans Am, which were the objects of the search warrant, in conjunction with the State Police.
Meanwhile Uribe-Vidal was charged with 16 counts of aggravated assault on a police officer and one count of aggravated battery on a police officer for his part in Saturday’s shooting. He is being held at the Lea County Detention Center on a $170,000 cash or surety bond.
Gomez also faces charges on two counts of aggravated assault on a police officer and one count of aggravated battery on a police officer. He was transported to Lea County Detention Center with $30,000 cash or surety bond.