Printed on: October 05, 2012

Buck Garner's killer once considered his friend

By Ruth Brown
rbrown@postregister.com

Buck Garner and Joey Chavez were once friends. Lisa Garner, Buck's mother, said they used to hang out and write songs together. She described Buck as a talented musician.

Joey Chavez was a guest in the Garner home at least 100 times, she said.

He was "a sweet kid."

In four days, Chavez, 19, will be sentenced for second-degree murder in the death of his former friend. The charge is punishable by a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison.

Last month, Chavez pleaded guilty to stabbing Buck to death. Buck was 20 when he died on Christmas Day.

Chavez will be the last of six defendants in the case to be sentenced.

"(Joey) used to come over and give me a big hug and call me mom," Lisa said. "Half of the teenagers in Idaho Falls call me Mama Lisa."

Lisa said she met Chavez about six years ago when he started hanging around with Buck.

"When Joey was younger ... I saw him and he was always happy and smiling," Lisa Garner said. "He seemed to be a really cute kid."

The boys later grew apart and stopped hanging out. Lisa said she only heard bits and pieces of why they drifted apart.

Although Lisa believes Chavez needs to be punished for what he did, she's also shed many tears for him.

"I don't know why exactly that is, but I've cried for him," she said.

Buck knew Chavez well, but Lisa said fellow defendant Derek Perez was like a son to her and like a brother to Buck.

Perez, 19, spent weeks at a time staying at the Garner home, she said.

He was sentenced in July after pleading guilty to a charge of principal to aggravated battery. Perez drove the others to and from the fight and was involved in starting the conflict, according to court records.

Perez was ordered to serve a rider treatment program for his role in the murder.

Perez told the court in May he didn't learn of the stabbing "until about a mile-and-a-half down the road" as he drove the assailants away from the scene.

During Perez's sentencing, Bonneville County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Daniel Clark said he believed Perez didn't know Chavez had a knife or that Garner would be killed.

The fight that led to his death wasn't meant to be Buck's battle. His friend Andrew Hall had called him saying he was afraid because some people were coming over to fight, Lisa said.

Hall told Buck he thought the men had weapons and asked for his help, Lisa said. Buck immediately went to Hall's home.

Lisa's lifelong relationship with Perez and his family only makes things more difficult for her. She said she will always think of Perez as family.

Pictures of Perez with Buck still hang in Lisa's basement, their friendship evidenced by their arms around each other and the goofy grins on their faces.

During her victim impact statement at Perez's sentencing, Lisa said, "I want Derek to know I love him."

Lisa struggles to rectify her memories of the boyhood friends with the emotions of losing her son.

"I struggled with that a lot and after (the murder) happened. ... Derek wanted to talk to me and he came over a couple times but I refused to see him," she said.

She said the Perez family is trying to make amends. They invite her over for dinner regularly and call her daily -- sometimes twice a day.

"Half the time I answer, half the time I don't," Garner said.

Members of Perez's family declined to be interviewed for this story.

Garner has visited Perez at the Bonneville County Jail since his sentencing.

She said the first thing he told her was "Lisa, I love you."

Ruth Brown can be reached at 542-6750. Follow on Twitter: @ruthbrown1. Comment on this story on Post Talk at www.postregister .com/posttalk/.