Prosecutors have charged an Aztec man with stalking and harassment for allegedly following two, possibly three, women in Durango and Bayfield.
Eli Garcia, 24, is suspected of following a woman in Durango over multiple days in December. On one of those days, the woman in Durango and two women in Bayfield said they were followed by the same vehicle.
Garcia, who is free on $5,000 bail, is charged with two misdemeanor counts of harassment and one felony count of stalking. His next court hearing is set for Jan. 31.
Bayfield Marshal Joe McIntyre said if women are concerned about stalking, they should pay attention and seek help.
“If you believe you could possibly be being followed, call 911 and go to a public place where there are a lot of people around,” McIntyre wrote in an email to The Durango Herald, “or as one of our victims did, go to a fire station or to the police department.”
The Durango woman was walking through her employer’s parking lot Dec. 5 when a man driving a dark-colored Jeep leaned out the window and said a sexually explicit phrase regarding an action he wanted to perform involving the woman’s body, according to a statement she made to the Durango Police Department. She later identified the man as Garcia.
She became increasingly scared after her boyfriend said he had seen a dark-colored Jeep in their neighborhood that morning, according to the statement.
On the morning of Dec. 12, the woman saw the same Jeep driving next to her vehicle and captured its license plate. After arriving at work, she said the Jeep could be seen driving around the block twice before leaving the area.
Less than an hour later, Karina Piche called police after noticing a black Jeep following her around The Grocery Store in Bayfield, according to her statement to the Bayfield Marshal’s Office.
The Jeep followed Piche as she made several turns and stops to see if the Jeep would change direction. The driver followed her turns, at which point “she was very scared for herself and her family,” according to the statement.
Eventually, she drove to the Upper Pine River Fire Protection District station in Bayfield and waited. The Jeep pulled over down the road and eventually left the area, according to her statement.
Garcia told the Bayfield Marshal’s Office that he was unaware he was following Piche. He said he pulled over near the fire station because he thought he was having car trouble.
Efforts to reach Garcia for comment were unsuccessful.
“I was followed for more than 10 min,” Piche wrote on the Bayfield Marshal’s Facebook page after the event. “I was making many turns to see if he was following me and he made exact turns.”
Around the same time, a dark-colored Jeep pulled up to Natalie Miller at the Mini-Merc gas station in Bayfield, according to her statement to the Bayfield Marshal’s Office.
A man leaned out the window and said the exact same sexually explicit phrase that he said to the woman in Durango, according to an incident report. When she drove away, the Jeep followed her closely on U.S. Highway 160 westbound before turning left at County Road 501.
Garcia told deputies he was listening to offensive music, which may have been what Miller heard, according to his statement.
Stay alert to stay safeBoth McIntyre and Durango police Cmdr. Rita Warfield said it is most helpful for people to stay alert.
“The biggest thing is to always be aware of your surroundings, whether going to and from home or work, or while out shopping,” McIntyre said.
Warfield said both the Durango woman and Piche made important decisions for their safety. The Durango woman managed to capture the license plate number and reported the incidents to police. Piche found a safe, public place to wait and also called police.
“Unfortunately, these types of cases are really not that unusual,” Warfield said.
If someone feels uncomfortable or is suspicious, but nothing specific is happening, Warfield recommended creating a written log or snapping a picture. People should also be alert regarding their personal information online as well as paying attention in their physical environment.
“I’ve been an officer for 25 years, and I have seen cases such as this happen quite often. No one should take them lightly, because stalking is a serious crime,” Warfield said. “If you do have a gut feeling, you oftentimes are correct in your feeling.”