An arrest warrant was issued for Yuriy Bruks on Aug. 5, a day after his wife was found dead in their Cheektowaga home.
That was just enough time, according to prosecutors, for the 35-year-old truck driver to retrieve his passport from the crime scene, purchase a burner phone from Walmart and head toward the U.S.-Mexico border.
Bruks, a native of Ukraine, was finally apprehended by U.S. Marshals and Mexican immigration officials on Saturday while trying to board a Cancun connecting flight to Turkey.
Authorities from the U.S. Attorney’s Office to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office released more information on the murder case and subsequent manhunt Tuesday, hours after Bruks appeared in Erie County Court and pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, a class A-1 felony.
“This prosecution and this effort to bring Mr. Bruks back to justice demonstrates truly how we are one team,” said U.S. Attorney James Kennedy. “It shows how we can work together at the state, federal and local level … to bring these most dangerous of individuals to justice.”
According to prosecutors and a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday, Cheektowaga Police responded to the Bruks’ 81 Raymond Ave. home during the early morning hours of Aug. 4 to find Tetiana Bruks dead of blunt force trauma to the head, neck and torso.
“It was a savage beating,” said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn.
It was Bruks who called 911, Flynn revealed Tuesday, but the prosecutor declined to reveal what Bruks told the 911 operator and what Bruks’ explanation was for his wife’s injuries.
Bruks was named a suspect, but was removed from the home and released pending further investigation, according to court documents.
Flynn defended that decision Tuesday, saying authorities initially did not have enough evidence to charge Bruks and hold him in custody.
“Anyone can have a slip and fall in the home. Anything can happen in the home,” he said. “Until you investigate it and know exactly what caused the death of the individual and what exactly happened in the home, you may not know that within the first two hours. That may take some time to develop.”
Bruks returned to his home later that same night and re-entered the house, emerging with a backpack and laptop, his father, Yaroslav Bruks, later told authorities. It’s believed Bruks also grabbed his passport, as police re-checked the home and could no longer find it.
This was despite the fact the home was an active crime scene and “no person was to have access to the residence during the time in which Bruks re-entered the residence,” according to court documents.
Flynn declined to explain how Bruks managed to re-enter the home and whether there were any police at the home, saying it could be evidence at a potential trial.
An arrest warrant charging Bruks with second-degree murder was issued the next day, but police could not locate him, according to court documents.
After Cheektowaga police enlisted the help of the U.S. Marshals New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force, surveillance footage was obtained of Bruks purchasing a cell phone at the Walmart on Transit Road in Williamsville.
The phone last pinged at 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 7 near Laredo, Texas, leading authorities to believe Bruks had crossed the border into Mexico.
Flynn said Tuesday that Bruks crossed the border illegally by unknown means, adding they’re also trying to determine how he traveled the roughly 1,700 miles from Cheektowaga down to the border.
On Saturday, U.S. Marshals learned that Bruks had booked a one-way flight from Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, to Istanbul, Turkey. They quickly coordinated with Mexican officials and apprehended Bruks during his flight layover in Cancun.
Bruks was immediately brought back to the U.S. and did not have to go through the extradition process because he was in the country illegally, according to Kennedy.
Bruks was also charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, a federal crime part of the Fugitive Felon Act, but Kennedy said he will dismiss that charge.
“Congress enacted the statute simply to allow the federal authorities with all the resources we have to assist state and local law enforcement in apprehending state and local fugitives who flee their jurisdiction,” he explained. “So that’s what we’ve done here. It’s served its purpose and now we will dismiss those charges.”
Bruks is now being held in the Erie County Holding Center without bail. His next court date has not yet been scheduled.
A call to his attorney, appointed by the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, was not immediately returned Tuesday.