PECOS — From the bridge where N.M. 223 crosses the Pecos River, the Encinias siblings can point a few hundred yards to the spot from which they say their brother jumped into into the fast-flowing and frigid water.
According to the New Mexico State Police, officers were trying to make contact with Brian Encinias on May 9 when the 46-year-old fled on foot and disappeared into the runoff-swollen river.
Over the past week, siblings Sylvia, Peter, Gerald and Theresa have patrolled the roaring water from Pecos all the way to Rowe, which is 8 miles by car and longer by winding river, in search of both their brother’s body and some closure.
So far, they have found neither.
“There was a misdemeanor warrant out for his arrest. So he panicked, ran, and jumped into the water even though he did not have any knowledge of swimming at all,” said Sylvia Encinias Mendoza, who presumes her brother did not survive. “Brian would have already contacted us if he was OK. We want his body to bring him to rest.”
In January, San Miguel County Magistrate Court issued arrest warrants for Brian Encinias for the misdemeanors of evading an officer and driving with a revoked license, as well as the petty misdemeanors of driving without a seat belt, no proof of insurance and failure to register a vehicle, according to the warrants.
Those charges all stem from a Jan. 19 incident in which Brian Encinias, who family members say was an unemployed drug addict, was pulled over in Pecos before successfully fleeing two officers on foot, according to affidavits for the arrest warrants.
State police said Thursday afternoon that Brian Encinias has not been located nor confirmed dead. Family members say police told them they saw his body floating face-down in the river shortly after he jumped in. State police did not respond to an email Thursday afternoon seeking to confirm that account.
Encinias Mendoza said police did tell her that her brother is dead and that authorities will resume their search for his body once water levels drop in June or July.
But she and her siblings, who all grew up in Pecos, don’t want to wait that long.
“Now we just want closure,” Encinias Mendoza said. “That’s why we have taken it up to our own responsibility to be looking for him.”
On Wednesday, state police released a statement that said officers had confronted Brian Encinias at 4:37 p.m May 9 because he matched the description of a suspect in a nearby larceny case. The statement said Brian Encinias fled on foot and that during the chase officers identified him as the subject of an active warrant for his arrest.
Family members say Brian Encinias was not the larceny suspect police were seeking. State police did not respond to an email seeking comment on that.
Around 8:30 that night, Peter Encinias said he received a call from state police officers asking if he had a key to his mother’s house, where Brian Encinias lived. When Theresa Encinias arrived at the house, she says officers told her they suspected her brother might have been the man who jumped into the river. The next day, family members say state police confirmed that their brother did jump into the river.
“When I talked to the police the night this happened, they told me they weren’t sure if it was my brother,” Peter Encinias said. “The next day when we went to meet with them, they were sure it was my brother. They were hoping Brian jumped in and got out of the river and went home, but he didn’t get out of the river. They were waiting for him at home when they should have been looking around where they last saw him.”
The Encinias siblings say that Friday, the day after Brian Encinias jumped in the river, state police officers helped search the area but have not been back since. The siblings, their spouses and children, and some volunteers from the community, including a local animal rescue nonprofit who provided a drone to take pictures of the river from above, have joined in the effort.
Family members say the search party splits into groups of two and has been up and down the riverbanks. They say the only possible sign of Brian Encinias they have found is what they think is one of his shoes, but they are determined to keep looking.
“He had his problems, but he didn’t deserve to be chased to the river like this,” Gerald Encinias said. “We just want to find the body and have an autopsy and get some closure.”