A set of “reckless driving” circumstances were documented sufficiently for the case against Miranda Pacheco, 25, in the death of cyclist David Anderson, 56, on March 22, 2010. Bernalillo County investigators were able to obtain statements from witnesses to Pacheco’s reckless driving prior to her swerving out-of-control, cutting across three lanes of traffic, traveling up the embankment, through a fence and crashing into Anderson on the Paseo del Norte multi-use path killing him instantly. Without this documentation of poor driving behavior before the crash she would NOT have been charged with “Homicide by Vehicle (reckless)”. The first trial began October 11, 2011, but resulted in a hung jury. The case will be retried starting October 1, 2012.
Roy Sekreta, 43, was headed home from work, commuting by bicycle as he did most days. One of the reasons he had come to Albuquerque was because it was possible to commute by bike most of the year. Northbound on the North Diversion Channel multi-use path he was attempting to cross Comanche Blvd on March 3, 2008. Nathaniel Martin, 25, traveling east bound on Comanche, hit Sekreta sending him flying through the air across the median into the westbound traffic lane and his bicycle all the way into the diversion channel. Sekreta was pronounced dead at the scene by an investigator from the Office of the Medical Examiner.
Meanwhile, Martin fled the scene. He returned about 30 minutes later. Martin told the investigating APD officer in a taped interview that “he made a lane change to the left lane so he could pass that vehicle in the right lane when all of a sudden a bicyclist came out of nowhere in front of him. Nathanial said that he estimated his speed to be about 50 M.P.H.” Comanche Blvd. has a posted speed limit of 40 mph in that area.
Examination of New Mexico court records reveals that Martin paid a $15.00 fine for speeding “up to 10 mph over limit” and $79.00 in court costs for his actions on March 3, 2008.
John Anczarski, 19, had ridden his bicycle, along with three friends, all the way from Ringtown PA to NM Highway 124, about 40 miles west of Albuquerque. This group, called Pink Pedal, was riding to raise money for breast cancer research. On June 21, 2010 Gilbert Waconda was driving this stretch of road at the same time, but looking for off to the opposite side of the road, when he crashed into Anczarski.
John’s parents, after flying to Albuquerque from Pennsylvania, took him off life support the next day, holding him as he succumbed to his injuries.
In a letter dated September 29, 2011, describing why Waconda would not be charged in the case, U. S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzales told Anczarski’s parents:
Under applicable federal criminal law, sustain a conviction for involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt that a subject was reckless. Under controlling law, mere negligence or carelessness is insufficient to meet this burden of proof. Applying these legal standards to the facts established by the investigation, my Assistants and I have concluded that, although the evidence indicates that Mr. Waconda may have been inattentive of may have failed to keep a proper lookout, it was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Waconda’s conduct rose to the level of recklessness.
The handling of this case has raised concerns not just here in New Mexico.
John’s Aunt and Uncle visited the bike in 2011
Matthew Trujillo died on May 26, 2011 from injuries sustained on May 12, 2011. The motor vehicle driver in this case, Memori Hardwick, 20, crashed into Trujillo, 36, while running a red light, but more importantly was found to be under the influence of drugs. This combination of circumstances has led to a Grand Jury indictment on the charge of “Homicide by Vehicle (DUI).”
Due to Memori’s history with drugs, including outstanding charges, she chose to plead guilty to the charges of vehicluar homicide and leaving the scene. She was sentenced on September 7, 2012 before District Judge Ross Sanchez. She received a sentence of six years for the vehicluar homicide which will be served concurently with an 18 month sentence for posession of a controlled substance. An additional three year sentence was imposed for leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in great bodily harm or death. Hopefully a period of inpatient treatment at Delancey Street (a rehabilitation center) during the subsquent parole period will allow Memori to improve her life and avoid further drug use.
Heather Reu, 42, together with her husband Phil, parented four beautiful adopted children, ages three through seven. She was an active member of her church, supporter of many charitable endeavors and a ready volunteer worker for many causes. She was also a triathlete and frequently did her bicycle training near their house on Albuquerque’s west side. On June 23, 2009 she was out for just such a training ride, proceeding lawfully, northbound on Paseo del Volcan. A vehicle driven by Daniel Gomez-Rubio, 40, struck her from behind. Heather died at the scene.
Gomez-Rubio attempted to flee the scene, but witnesses stopped him from leaving and he was arrested. Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Lindley said, “The tire of the vehicle Gomez was driving briefly left the roadway moments before he struck Reu.
Gomez-Rubio told investigators he “looked down to pick up his cell phone, which had fallen to the seat.”
Because Gomez-Rubio was not found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI), the only other charge available under current New Mexico law that would have addressed Heather Reu’s death was Vehicular Homicide (Reckless). However the Grand Jury did not find that Gomez-Rubio’s actions met the definition of “reckless driving.” The most severe charge against Gomez-Rubio was for leaving the scene of a crash that caused great bodily harm or death. There were three additional misdemeanor charges, careless driving, possession of drug paraphernalia and driving with a suspended or revoked license.
Gomez-Rubio was eventually found guilty of leaving the scene of a crash that caused great bodily harm or death while the other charges were suspended in an agreement. The three year jail term of his sentence was reduced to 18 months, with another 18 months of supervised probation
Gomez-Rubio was not penalized for the actions that led to the death of Heather Reu.
If he had not fled the scene, his penalties would probably not have included jail time.
This is exactly the type of case for which we want better legal redress; cases where a road user is left dead or suffers great bodily harm at the hand of another road user who’s actions reflect “careless driving” (66-8-114) rather than “reckless driving” (66-8-113).
September 7, 2007 was a very nice fall day in the Albuquerque area. James Quinn and his wife Ashley were riding their bicycles from Albuquerque east towards Tijeras on old Route 66. The couple had recently moved to Albuquerque for James, 28, to start classes at UNM’s School of Law. They were on the shoulder, well out of the traffic lane, with another group of cyclists just behind them.
Angela Browning, 19, driving a 2001 Mitsubishi passenger car was headed in the same direction when she struck the couple, killing James and injuring Ashley. Apparently Browning saw the group behind the Quinns, moving left to pass them, but in a statement to police she indicated she had not seen James and Ashley. In her written statement to Bernalillo County Sheriff’s officers Browning said “I was going about 60 mph and swerved off the road. I didn’t even see him.”
Browning was found guilty of careless driving and failing to maintain the lane, paying $310 dollars in fines and $213 in other court costs.