Three people were seriously injured in a Nov. 1 head-on collision near Tierra Amarilla.
According to E-911 dispatch logs, the crash occurred near the intersection of U.S. Highway 64/84 and County Road 95 (the Heron Lake turn-off). The first 911 call came in at 5:39 p.m.
Witnesses later told a Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office sergeant the 2020 Toyota Tacoma, driven by Maria Rodella, 43, of Tierra Amarilla; veered into the southbound lane, striking a 2020 Jeep Cherokee, driven by Cristobal Martinez, 26, Chama.
Emergency response medics from the Tierra Amarilla Clinic were on the scene at 5:43 p.m. After checking the injured people they called for law enforcement to handle traffic and bystanders.
A dispatcher contacted New Mexico State Police but was told there was only one patrolman on duty in the Chama area and he was handling an accident near Dulce.
The medics requested a helicopter be launched and meet them at the Tierra Amarilla Clinic. They then requested Chama EMTs come to the scene with an extractor because a man was trapped in the passenger side of the Tacoma.
The trapped man, Richardo Archuleta, had injuries to his chest and was unrestrained during the crash. Medics asked for a second helicopter and told dispatch there were three patients.
With no law enforcement on scene yet, at 6:30 p.m. the first medic crew took Archuleta to Tierra Amarilla Clinic to meet Careflight and the second medic crew took Rodella to Española Hospital Emergency Room.
The status and transportation of Martinez is not explained in the dispatch log, nor the incident report by Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Craig Yazzie.
This left Chama Volunteer Fire Department paramedics on scene alone. They decided to open the road and allow the tow trucks to take the vehicles.
Martinez’s brother Antonio Martinez called dispatch and said, “No cops ever showed up and that the driver of the other vehicle (Maria Rodella) was drink (sic) and he stated it is unfair that she is getting away with it.”
Yazzie was advised of the conversation. At midnight that night he and Deputy Jerry Albo began investigating the accident. Albo went to take pictures of the vehicles at Martinez Towing. Yazzie spoke with witnesses.
Jasmine Hinds told Yazzie that she was following Martinez’s Cherokee south on U.S. 64/84. Martinez was maintaining his lane and speed as Rodella approached Martinez in the northbound lane.
“(Rodella’s vehicle) made a quick, sharp turn directly in front of (Martinez),” Hinds told Yazzie.
It appeared to Hinds that Martinez was trying to make an evasive maneuver but had no time.
She said after the accident she helped people care for the injured. She observed alcoholic beverages “on and near” Rodella’s vehicle and Rodella appeared intoxicated.
Lauren Franco told Yazzie she did not see the crash but came upon it very soon after it occurred. She too said she saw beer cans around Rodella’s car.
She said both Rodella and Martinez were up and walking around. Witnesses were trying to get them both to sit.
Maggie Valdez said when she arrived on the scene she encountered both drivers individually and both seemed intoxicated. She said she saw red cans of Budweiser beer around Martinez’s vehicle and “white cans of beer” around Rodella’s.
Valdez said she followed Franco around the scene and Franco on her cell phone repeatedly told (possibly dispatchers) several times that she (Franco) believed both drivers were intoxicated.
Yazzie wrote that the night of the crash deputies photographed both vehicles. Yazzie said he found a box of Miller Lite beer in the bed of Rodella’s Tacoma. It was photographed. He found no alcoholic beverages in Martinez’s Cherokee.
Because the quality of the photos was dark, the deputies returned the morning of Nov. 3 to rephotograph the vehicles. The beer was no longer in Rodella’s truck bed.
Yazzie spoke with the tow yard owner, who told him Rodella had visited the tow yard earlier in the morning and removed several items from her vehicle.
Yazzie inspected the damage to the two vehicles. He concludes in his report that Rodella made a sudden left-hand turn in front of Martinez, causing the accident.
Rodella was cited for careless driving and faulty left turn.
Martinez was cited for driving on a suspended license, no insurance and no registration.