Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s deputies are investigating a crash that killed two people Monday evening, between El Prado and El Rito.
The driver of a black Camaro, Mateo Reina-Perlaza, 29, of Hernandez, survived the crash.
Pat Herrera, 67, of El Rito was driving in the opposite direction in a maroon Nissan Altima when Perlaza allegedly crashed into him. Herrera died at the scene.
Perlaza’s passenger, girlfriend Monique Montoya, 43, of Albuquerque, died at the scene.
Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Major Randy Sanches said Deputy Joseph Cannon is investigating the crash and, based on the “initial indications,” it appears Perlaza caused the crash after he crossed the center line on the two-lane highway.
“(The investigation) is directed more toward DUI,” he said.
Although no charges have been filed, the case has been forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office.
“I have not got (sic) word back from them on how they want to proceed and the direction we’re going at the moment,” Sanches said.
Perlaza was heavily medicated before being transported to the Española Hospital by ambulance, meaning any blood tests would be muddied by the medication he was given. However, blood test results are still a possible avenue to investigate the crash, he said.
He said he did not know if there was any evidence found in Perlaza’s car.
Even if deputies cannot support a claim that Perlaza was allegedly intoxicated, he could still be charged with vehicular homicide, just under the reckless driving statute.
None of the occupants of either car were ejected.
“Our reports say no seat belts were being used, but we’re also talking about a head-on at highway speeds,” Sanches said.
Both vehicles were newer, which means it is likely that no one would be ejected.
Rio Arriba County Deputy Fire Marshal Alfredo Montoya responded to the call and said if Herrera and Monique Montoya had been alive, they would have been trapped in the vehicles.
“The individual who lived, from one of the vehicles, I don’t know if he was able to (self-extricate), but he was out of the vehicle prior to my arrival,” he said.
The first 911 call came at 5:51 p.m. and the caller told dispatchers there was a head-on crash on SR 554 before the line disconnected, according to the E-911 Dispatch Center logs.
Dispatchers received at least six 911 calls for the crash but all of them disconnected after a few minutes.
There is no cell phone service near the crash.
By the time Abiquiú volunteer firefighters arrived at the scene, they reported Montoya and Herrera were dead and that Perlaza got out of the vehicle, the logs state.
Sanches said deputies called State Police, the City of Santa Fe Police Department and the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office to see if anyone could send out an accident reconstruction team, but none of them were available.
“They’ve got the equipment to do 3-D diagrams and things like that,” he said.
Sanches said he thinks Cannon will do a fine job investigating the crash.
According to the logs, Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office told dispatchers they were already handling too many fatal crashes that day.
The traffic sergeant for the Santa Fe Police Department told dispatchers that they “will not come out (due to) jurisdiction issues.”
Dispatchers also called the Los Alamos Police Department and were told no one was available, the logs state.
El Rito resident Richard Gallegos said his sister called him and told him about the crash. He went to the scene and identified Herrera.
Gallegos said that turn, between mile markers 3 and 4, has been the cause of many crashes.
“My thoughts were, at that time that I got close enough, that’s an awful turn,” he said. “There are so many accidents there.”
Alfredo Montoya said he started as a volunteer firefighter with the Abiquiú Volunteer Fire Department in the summer of 2004.
“During that time, I responded to multiple fatals there and last night, in conversation with one of the individuals from the Office of the Medical Investigator, he said that is a known stretch of highway to them as well,” he said.
A descanso sat on the side of the road, next to the crash, evidence of prior fatalities.
Sanches said many years ago, when he was working as a medic, he responded to a triple fatal crash near that stretch of road.
“It was a mother and two children,” he said.
Pat Herrera’s brother, Nicholas Herrera, did not respond to a voicemail left Tuesday morning at his El Rito home.