By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
A witness described seeing his coworker beat a 51-year-old Tucumcari truck driver to death with a rock in the early morning hours Thursday after the two had an argument.
Brandon Barela, 24, is being held at the Curry County Adult Detention Center on a $500,000 bond on an open count of murder in the death of Ronnie Hittson. Barela was arrested Friday in Roswell.
The witness, an employee of a Roswell milk testing company, said he, Barela and Hittson had left a Clovis bar together and, “went to score some dope,” according to an arrest affidavit filed in Curry County Magistrate Court.
The witness, who has not been charged in the case, told police after leaving the bar, the trio drove a long way and had turned back toward Clovis when Barela and Hittson began arguing and Hittson asked him to stop the truck so he could walk.
The man told police when he stopped, Barela got out with Hittson and, “went off and started beating the guy with a rock,” then got back in the truck covered in blood, the affidavit said.
Hittson’s body was found at State Road 523 and Sugarbeet Road by a passing truck driver just before 7 a.m. Thursday.
According to the affidavit, Hittson had sustained major injuries to his face.
The only identifying article found with the body was a key chain engraved with the words, “To Ron with love from Katlyn.” The keys fit the locks to a parked semi-truck left near a hotel on Mabry Drive, which was traced back to Hittson.
The witness told police he and Barela went back to their hotel after the incident, but later returned to the area where they had left Hittson. He said Barela wanted him to get out of the truck and, “help him.” But when he refused, Barela punched him in the face and they went back to their hotel.
Another coworker who was sharing a hotel room with Barela and had returned from the bars earlier said the 24-year-old suspect woke him in the early morning hours, his clothes covered in blood, and told him, “You need to help me, we (messed) him up.”
The coworker said he told Barela to get away from him and went back to sleep but the next morning, he said Barela showed him a wallet he said belonged to Hittson and told him he had “hit the truck driver with a rock and then had run over him with the truck,” the affidavit said.
Security footage at Webb’s Watering Hole showed Barela, three other employees of a Roswell milk testing company and Hittson leaving the bar just before 1 a.m. Thursday. An interview with a bartender at Clovis City Limits revealed the group had turned up there around 1 a.m. and was later asked to leave.
According to the affidavit, blood was found in Barela’s Clovis hotel room and witnesses told investigators the clothing Barela was wearing the night of the homicide was taken to his residence in Dexter.
Curry County Undersheriff Wesley Waller said previously there could be more arrests in connection with the slaying, though as of Monday, no other arrests had been made.
Barela was already in the custody of Roswell police being questioned on an unrelated matter at the time of his arrest, the affidavit said.