Suspect in police chase to stay in jail until trial

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ROSWELL N.M- A man who allegedly committed a series of crimes, including leading police on a high speed chase that ended when he crashed a stolen pickup truck in Tatum, will remain in jail until after his trial.

Judge Thomas Lilley granted a motion by the district attorney’s office to keep 27-year-old Joel Omar Contreras in pretrial detention during a Tuesday hearing at the Chaves County courthouse.

Lilley sided with the prosecution, saying the allegations against Contreras, coupled with his criminal history, make him a danger to the public if released.

“I’m not sure that given that behavior and given his record in the other case referenced by the state that any conditions of release I could set could in any way remotely deal with that kind of behavior and give me any assurance at all that our community would be safe,” Lilley said in explaining his decision.

Contreras faces four counts of aggravated assault and one count each of armed robbery; aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer; felon in possession of a firearm; kidnapping; interference with communications; aggravated assault upon a peace officer and interference with communications, in the June 20 crime spree.

In their motion, the prosecution said that “Mr. Contreras ‘actions are that of a habitual offender who cannot or will not cease the habit of taking other people’s vehicles and threatening them with a firearm.”

The state argued that Contreras “must not be allowed to have access to firearms, cars and bystanders.”

Frank Rio, Contreras’ attorney argued there was no sufficient evidence put forth that shows his client represents a danger if released while awaiting trial.

Charges against Contreras stem from the June 20 events that began at 4:30 p.m. that day, when he reportedly took a pickup truck at gunpoint from its driver in the parking lot of a Roswell convenience store.

According to police, he then headed to Loveless Park in the pickup, where he reportedly pulled a gun on three men, who then quickly drove away. He then forced a woman who was nearby into the pickup at gun point and drove away with her.

After police spotted the pickup, a chase began, at times reaching speeds of up to 100 mph.

Contreras during the pursuit allegedly drove through multiple red lights and stop signs and forced other vehicles off the road.

Court records state that at one point, Contreras allegedly almost drove head on into a police vehicle. However, the woman he took with him eventually grabbed the steering wheel and turned the pickup in a different direction, averting a crash.

The pursuit went east on U.S. 380, with Roswell police and New Mexico State Police officers, as well as Chaves and Lea County deputies, taking part.

It ended more than 70 miles away in downtown Tatum after the pickup hit some spike strips and crashed. Contreras and the woman were each treated before he was placed under arrest.