Passenger who bought drinks before 2010 vehicular homicide of two girls won’t face charges

Posted: May 18, 2012 in Uncategorized
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T-shirts of Peshlakai sisters worn by the several dozen supporters at an Oct. 20, 2011, vehicular homicide sentencing for James Ruiz. (Geoff Grammer/The New Mexican)

It looks as though the passenger in the vehicular homicide case that took the lives of Del Lynn and Deshauna Peshlakai in 2010 won’t face criminal charges.

That’s what the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office on Thursday announced.

James Ruiz, the man in prison for 40 years for driving drunk and killing the sisters after a high school state tournament basketball game at Santa Fe Indian School, claims Gilbert Mendoza agreed to buy all the drinks that night if Ruiz would drive. That fits with state law allowing the state to proceed with charges against a passenger under the legal theory of accessory liability.

The AG’s Office went after Alfred Lovato (Carlos Fierro’s passenger in a vehicular homicide case) under that same principal despite there being no apparent evidence to that effect (at least to anyone other than the AGs Odffic) and that is why that case fizzled out. Seems odd to go after Lovato and not Mendoza if the office really believes in that legal concept… unless of course there were other reasons they chose to so heavily pursue those charges against Lovato and refused to cut losses much earlier in that case.

This is the short blurb written up yesterday that appeared in this morning’s paper on the decision:

The state has decided against prosecuting a passenger in the 2010 drunken-driving crash that killed Navajo teenagers Del Lynn and Deshauna Peshlakai.

The driver, James Ruiz, was convicted of vehicular homicide and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. The Attorney General’s Office said it would review the evidence against Gilbert Mendoza, Ruiz’s passenger, following a defeat in a similar case. In that case, a judge dismissed a vehicular-homicide charge against Alfred Lovato, a passenger in a car driven by Carlos Fierro when it struck and killed William Tenorio in downtown Santa Fe in 2008.

In a letter to state District Court Judge Michael Vigil in September 2011, Ruiz wrote, “Upon leaving Applebee’s, we all got into Gilbert’s truck. [Gilbert was driving at this point.) Gilbert says, ‘I’ll pick up another tab if you drive us home.’ By this point my craving for alcohol had been teased.”

A statement released by Dave Pederson, general counsel for the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, said, “Our review of the available evidence led us to believe we did not have sufficient evidence … to pursue charges against the passenger/owner of the car in this case.”

  1. R. Alfred Walker says:

    “Seems odd to go after Lovato and not Mendoza if the office really believes in that legal concept” I am not part of the AG’s Office, but I was a special prosecutor in the Lovato case. The Mendoza case looks to me to be an even better case, especially since Mendoza told police that he told Ruiz that Mendoza would buy the drinks if Ruiz would drive. But I think there are those higher up than the line prosecutors in the AG’s Office who are “once bitten, twice shy.” I also know Dave Pedersen, a friend of mine and of my wife’s family, and I think he is an “old school” defense attorney working for the chief prosecutor in the State. I disagree with the decision; I for one am not afraid to fight battles I may lose, in hopes of eventually winning the war. Why do we have a law passed by the people’s representatives that prosecutors will not use and judges will not enforce? (I am commenting in my personal capacity, not in my capacity as an employee of the City of Santa Fe.)

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