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Durango man pleads guilty to escape from La Plata County Jail

Elias Buck suspected of shooting Farmington police officer while on the run in 2022
Elias Buck, 25, escaped from the La Plata County Jail in late 2021. He is suspected of shooting a Farmington Police Department officer while on the run. (Courtesy of La Plata County Sheriff’s Office)

A Durango man who escaped from the La Plata County Jail and allegedly shot a Farmington police officer while on the lam pleaded guilty Monday to escape, assault and aggravated vehicle theft.

Elias Buck, 25, faces a presumptive range of two to six years in prison for the Colorado charges, in accordance with a plea agreement he signed with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

But any time he receives will be served concurrently – or at the same time – with a 10-year federal prison sentence he received for being a felon in possession of a firearm, meaning he won’t face any additional time in prison.

It is still possible the state of New Mexico will prosecute Buck for the Jan. 7, 2022, shooting of Farmington Police Department Officer Joseph Barreto.

New Mexico prosecutors previously charged Buck with assault on a peace officer in connection with the shooting, but dropped the charge to allow federal prosecutors to pursue a weapons charge. Buck was facing only six years in prison for shooting a police officer in the arm, but faced a longer prison sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The Colorado charges stem from a series of events that began Nov. 27, 2021, when Scott Krune, 68, gave Buck a ride from Durango to Aztec, according to an arrest affidavit.

Not long into the ride, Buck asked Krone to pull onto County Road 310 near Bondad, saying he needed to stop by a friend’s house. Buck then asked Krune to pull into a landfill and requested to use Krone’s cellphone.

Krone eventually asked Buck for his cellphone back, but Buck refused to return it, according to the affidavit. Buck then pushed Krune against the driver’s side door and elbowed him in the lip, according to the affidavit. The overpowered Krune then opened the driver’s side door and got out of the vehicle before Buck hopped into the driver’s seat and sped off, according to the affidavit.

Buck did not get far before a vehicle pursuit with the Aztec Police Department resulted in his arrest and extradition back to Colorado, where he was incarcerated at the La Plata Jail on Dec. 6, 2021, according to his second arrest affidavit.

While at La Plata County Jail, Buck was participating in a trustee program allowing inmates to work around the jail to earn “good time.” Inmate worker status grants more ability to move around the jail and with less supervision.

On Dec. 27, 2021, around 5:30 p.m., Buck was with other unsupervised inmate workers disposing of trash in a dumpster behind the jail kitchen when he scaled a fence and took off on foot, according to the affidavit. His disappearance was discovered about an hour later during a head count.

Eleven days later, on Jan. 7, 2022, Officer Barreto attempted to stop the driver of a black Cadillac on suspicion of drunken driving in Farmington. But the driver sped away, according to a sentencing memorandum in Buck’s federal case.

“Officers did not know it then, but the driver was the defendant, Elias Buck, a man who had escaped from a Durango jail,” the sentencing memo says.

Officers found the abandoned vehicle in a parking lot and established a perimeter. Barreto got out of his car and was looking for the suspect when he saw a man and a woman walking toward him. Barreto said both seemed to be out of breath, as if they had been running. As they drew closer, Barreto said he recognized the man as Buck.

Barreto asked the man and the woman to sit on the ground, but Buck pulled a pistol from his pocket, pointed it toward the officer’s face and pulled the trigger, according to the sentencing memorandum.

Barreto was shot once in the arm while reflexively shielding his face, according to federal prosecutors.

“If it had not been for Officer Barreto’s reflex to put his arms up, the defendant would be facing life in prison for murdering a police officer,” a federal sentencing memo says.

After the shooting, Buck remained on the lam for another seven days. He was eventually located Jan. 14, 2022, in Phoenix, where he was taken into custody without further incident.

Buck’s sentencing hearing for his Colorado charges is scheduled for Sept. 30.


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