Two members of Durango’s homeless community have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder in connection with a fight last weekend near the Animas River Trail.
In addition to the two arrests, police are looking for a third possible suspect, according to the Durango Police Department.
Around 6 p.m. Saturday, police were alerted of a fight behind the Speedway gas station at 901 Camino del Rio. Initial reports indicated a man was hit with a rock and dragged underneath Ninth Street Bridge.
When officers arrived, they heard a woman screaming from the west side of the river. Officers found the woman on the ground with a man, identified as Vernon Begay, 30, on top of her, according to court records and an interview with police.
Officers ordered Begay to get off the woman. The woman, identified as Paulina Ketchum, 36, told police her boyfriend, Orel Nathaniel, 30, was under the bridge unconscious. Officers found Nathaniel bleeding from the face and moaning, according to court records.
Paramedics arrived to treat Nathaniel, who suffered multiple fractures to the face and had some of his teeth knocked out, among other injuries. He was eventually flown to a hospital in Denver. Attempts to locate which hospital he was taken to and obtain an update on his condition were unsuccessful.
After the incident, Ketchum told police she and Nathaniel were sleeping under the bridge when three men approached: Begay, Kevin Bitsilly and a third suspect, whose name was being withheld Monday until police locate him.
The men immediately started attacking Nathaniel, Ketchum told police.
“Paulina said she said ‘no, no’ and Vernon grabbed her by the hair and said, ‘I don’t give a (expletive), I’ll go back to prison,” the investigating officer wrote. “Paulina said Vernon then threw her off the rocks and punched her multiple times.”
Durango police Cmdr. Ray Shupe said Nathaniel was unconscious while the group of men continued to beat him. It appears, according to court records, Begay was the main aggressor. Shupe said everyone involved in the incident is known to police as being part of the homeless community in Durango.
“They all run in the same groups and circles,” he said.
Ketchum told police Begay was trying to kill Nathaniel. She told investigators she had past relationships with all the men involved.
“It seemed like they were trying to get my boyfriend to die,” she told police.
When police arrived, Ketchum said Begay threw her down and continued to hit her. Ketchum was taken to Mercy Regional Medical Center with less-severe injuries, Shupe said, and later released.
Begay was arrested at the scene for attempted murder. Kevin Bitsilly, 32, fled the scene but was later found by police and arrested on the same charge.