LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A hitchhiker who authorities say jumped into a car with two Ohio fugitives before one of them fatally shot a New Mexico police officer says he had no way of knowing that the two men were suspects in a killing halfway across the country.
Tony Jones also told the Las Cruces Sun-News (http://bit.ly/2bYP4yI) that he couldn’t have imagined how the encounter would have ended up with all three being jailed in New Mexico.
“I didn’t do anything wrong; I’m a nice guy,” Jones said. “It was a bad situation.”
Authorities say the car’s driver, 38-year-old Jesse Hanes of Columbus, Ohio, fatally shot Hatch police Officer Jose Chavez during an Aug. 12 traffic stop.
Jones said Hanes almost crashed twice before exiting at Rincon, about five miles south of Hatch, and pulling into a yard where all three got out of the car.
Authorities have said Hanes then continued south on I-25 and stopped at a rest area near Radium Springs, where he is accused of carjacking and shooting a person. Hanes then continued to drive in a loop that took him back to Hatch, where police arrested him.
Jones and another passenger, 36-year-old James Nelson of Newark, Ohio, were found near Rincon.
Hanes and Nelson are accused in the July 25 shooting death of a 62-year-old man just outside Chillicothe, Ohio, 60 miles south of Columbus.
It’s unclear whether Chavez knew Hanes and Nelson were suspected in the Ohio killing.
Jones told the Las Cruces Sun-News that he met Hanes and Nelson in Santa Clara, California, as the pair was having a tough time finding a hotel room.
Jones says the two men were planning on traveling across the country and were going to drop him off to visit his mother in Missouri.
Authorities seized 1.2 grams of methamphetamine from a black suitcase Jones had at the time of his arrest. Jones said Nelson asked him to hide the meth in his suitcase.
Authorities initially said they weren’t going to level charges against Jones. But Jones was later indicted on a controlled-substance charge. He is being held in jail on a $75,000 bond.
Hanes has been charged with first-degree murder in the officer’s death.
Nelson was indicted on charges of trafficking controlled substances and possession with intent to distribute synthetic marijuana.
Chavez, a two-year veteran of the Hatch Police Department, was the father of two daughters.