A former police officer and another man pleaded guilty Friday to arson charges in burning down the closed Payless Inn on Route 66 and an abandoned house in Tucumcari, New Mexico, on Sept. 3, according to the Quay County Sun newspaper and other media outlets.
Dustin “Dusty” Lopez, the former Tucumcari officer, and Robert Sandoval each accepted a plea agreement in Quay County court that will send both to prison for up to five years. Sentencing is set for Sept. 1.
A third suspect, Dani J. Martinez, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. She remains free on bond until her court date, which has not yet been scheduled.
According to KVII in Amarillo, the men also must make restitution. The Payless Inn was valued at more than $150,000 at the time. If they fail to make restitution, they would have to serve a maximum prison time of 12 years.
More from the newspaper:
Lopez resigned Oct. 2 from the Tucumcari Police Department, the day after New Mexico State Police conducted a search of his home. He did not give a reason for his resignation, said Tucumcari Police Chief Jason Braziel.
State police received information there was evidence on Lopez’s cell phone connecting him and four others with a series of arson fires set in Tucumcari in September.
There was no word in any of the reports whether the men took responsibility for the fire that destroyed the historic but long-abandoned Tucumcari Motel near downtown, although the suspects were implicated in the investigation of that fire. That fire occurred two days after the Payless Inn fire. The Tucumcari Motel wasn’t on Route 66, but sat on old U.S. 54 and was believed to be on an alignment of the old Ozark Trail. The century-old structure also once was known as the Antler House, Palace Hotel and Oklahoma Rooms.
The Payless Inn originally opened as the Sheraton Motor Inn in the late 1960s or early 1970s. It also was known as Taaj Hotels and Suites for a time.