Freedom New Mexico
A Clovis man and a Lubbock woman were shot to death late Thursday night and police continued their hunt for a suspect into Friday.
The shootings occurred as the victims traveled near Charlotte Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in west Clovis, police said.
The slayings occurred around 11 p.m.
Gary Payne, 52, the driver, was found shot twice on the right side of his head. Melissa Ward, 36, was found in the back of the van, shot once in the head, police said.
Brandon Parker was outside a friend’s residence when he heard two gunshots, then saw a gold- and brown-striped van crash into a cinderblock wall. The impact threw cinderblock pieces through the back yard of 217 Pinon, leaving a pile of rubble.
Parker said he and friends ran to aid the victims. When they opened the driver’s door, they saw a white male covered in blood and a slender female figure crumpled in the back of the van.
The female showed no signs of life, he said, so they focused on the male.
“We were like, breathe, breathe,” Parker said. “He just tried to breathe and blood came out of his mouth, then the police came and told us to get out of the way.”
Police said Ward died at the scene. Payne was flown to a Lubbock hospital where he later died.
“It’s really freaking me out now that I know they were shot,” Parker said.
Parker said one of his friends saw a male figure running west through neighborhood yards after the crash, but Parker was focused on the victims and didn’t notice.
District Attorney Matt Chandler said police believe the “suspect or suspects” were inside the van with the victims when the shooting occurred.
Police Capt. Patrick Whitney said a bloody smudge — probably blood from a victim — found on a chainlink fence near the scene was likely left by the fleeing suspect but police have not been able to get a description of the suspect.
“There were several people that got there right away, but they were focused on the victims (and couldn’t describe a suspect),” he said.
“Right now we don’t know how many people were in the vehicle.”
Chandler also would not comment on a possible motive for the shooting, citing an ongoing investigation.
He said investigators with the Major Crimes Unit were conducting neighborhood canvases and talking with potential witnesses.
“The investigation’s so fresh at this point that there are very few details,” he said.
The homicides were Clovis’ first in 16 months.
Chandler said there is no indication Thursday’s shooting could be linked to four Curry County jail escapees who have evaded capture by law enforcement since Aug. 24.
Payne, who residents said worked with feedyards preparing grain for storage, had been seen in the neighborhood just before the shooting, Parker said.
After law enforcement arrived on scene, Parker said drug task force members arrived and investigators in white suits came to comb over the vehicle.
Whitney said a handgun was found on the floor of the vehicle near Payne’s seat, but police have not determined if it was the weapon used to shoot the victims.
Whitney said investigators are processing evidence, doing reconstruction tests and crash investigations to try to determine what happened. “There’s all kinds of evidence,” he said, explaining it could take time for answers in the case.
Autopsies are scheduled today, he said.
Chandler encouraged the public to help.
“At this time the investigation is quickly unfolding and we just ask anyone with information to contact law enforcement,” Chandler said.
Curry County Crime Stoppers can be reached at 763-7000 or Clovis police at 763-9470 or 769-1921.