An in-depth look at 2017’s six suspected homicides across Weld County |

An in-depth look at 2017’s six suspected homicides across Weld County

Tommy Simmons

When Greeley police officers began to examine the white pickup, the shattered retaining wall and the surrounding area one cold late April afternoon in the 2900 block of 29th Street, they opened what would become the year's first homicide investigation in Weld County.

Police believe the victim, Alberto Ruiz, 33, an employee for an asphalt company and the driver of the crashed pickup, was shot in an apparent act of road rage about 11 a.m. April 25, 2017. Detectives obtained a possible description of the suspect's vehicle, and Ruiz's family held an emotional news conference at the Greeley Police Department, but an arrest has yet to be made in the case.

In total, six people, including Ruiz, died in suspected homicides across Weld County in 2017. Four of those deaths occurred in Greeley, a nine-year high for the city. The most violent year in Greeley in the past two decades in terms of homicides came 2004, when six killings occurred. It is difficult to draw conclusions about any sort of trend from that data, though, given the miniscule sample size. Still, the last time the city of just over 100,000 people saw four killings in a year was 2008.

"Sometimes you get asked why murders are up or murders are down, and it's really hard to predict," said Greeley Police Chief Jerry Garner. "There are so many factors involved."

Garner said as Greeley's population rises, police expect the crime rate, including homicides, to increase, as well. He also pointed to parolees who commit violent crime after their early release from prison, such as Kelly Raisley, who was arrested in connection with the suspected August homicide of his uncle, Randy Baker.

Chance also plays a role in homicide rates. If first responders or doctors are able to save a victim's life, no homicide has occurred.

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But one common factor, Garner said, is substance abuse.

"A common denominator we often see is alcohol," he said. "Sometimes both the victim and the suspect are drunk."

Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams also said homicides are difficult to speak about in broad terms since motivations so often vary on a case-by-case basis. But he's noticed an increase in drug-related homicides in recent years.

"Several of our cases are drug deals that went wrong for one party or the other," Reams said.

He confirmed one of the two homicides his detectives are currently investigating was drug-related.

The difficult thing, Reams said, is preventing homicides. Murder is different from burglary, for example, a crime that can often be prevented when people lock their doors or cars.

Garner agreed.

"These aren't the types of crimes police can do a good job of preventing," he said. "Very often murders occur in private places where police aren't."

The exception to that rule, he said, is in domestic violence situations. If police can arrest the aggressor in a domestic violence case, they sometimes have prevented a killing.

Even when murders do happen, they are statistically one of the most-solved crimes by police, said Evans Police Chief Rick Brandt. Homicides are rarely committed by total strangers. That means the victim's acquaintances and relatives often form the core of a strong list of suspects. In addition to that, police departments are willing to devote a great deal of resources to solving a homicide.

Police have made arrests in connection with all but two of 2017's six killings in Weld. The first is Ruiz's death. The second open investigation is that into the death of Nathan Combs, 49, of Wyoming, who was shot in May near Hereford in the northern part of the county.

2017 killings

There were six suspected homicides in 2017 across Weld County. They are listed here in chronological order:

» April 25 — Police responded about 11 a.m. to the 2900 block of 29th Street in Greeley on report of a traffic crash with injuries. They found Alberto Ruiz, 33, dead in the pickup he drove for an asphalt company. Officers believe he was shot in an act of road rage. No arrest has been made in the case.

» May 18 — Weld County Sheriff’s deputies believe Nathan Combs, 49, of Wyoming was shot and killed about 3:20 p.m. near the intersection of Weld County roads 136 and 77, 55 miles northeast of Greeley, and a few miles south of the Wyoming border. Deputies have yet to make an arrest in connection with his death.

» Aug. 16 — Greeley police and firefighters responded to the 1800 block of 11th Street about 4:40 a.m. on the report of a garage on fire. They later discovered Jose Pacheo, 54, dead in the building; he appeared to have been bleeding profusely from his upper cheek or neck. Days later officers arrested Aaron Hoult, 22, in connection with the death, on suspicion of first-degree murder and first-degree arson.

» Aug. 16 — Police responded to the 1900 block of 44th Avenue Court in Greeley where they found Randy Baker, 59, dead in his home. After five weeks of investigation, officers arrested six people in connection with his death: his wife, Kelly Baker, his sister, Carol Baker, his nephew, Kelly Raisley, and Mark Raisley, who is Kelly Raisley’s cousin. They also arrested Michael Osborne and Santita Bachand.

» Sept. 3 — Police responded to a park in the 5600 block of 13th Street after a scuffle led to the stabbing and eventual death of 35-year-old Hermenegildo Flores. Officers later arrested Christopher Fahrner, 36, on suspicion of second-degree murder.

» Dec. 16 — Weld County Sheriff’s deputies believe Sammy Vega, 24, about 12:30 a.m. shot and killed Emmanuel Baca, 30, about a half mile from the intersection of Weld 55 and Colo. 52, east of Hudson. Vega also shot Baca’s cousin, Isael Baca, 24, but did not kill him, deputies say. Vega was arrested Dec. 21 and has a court date scheduled.