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Driver who killed 2 sisters suing restaurants, friend

A memorial stands on Cerrillos Road in south Santa Fe where Del Lynn and Deshauna Peshlakai were killed in a 2010 drunken-driving crash caused by multiple DWI offender James Ruiz. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
A memorial stands on Cerrillos Road in south Santa Fe where Del Lynn and Deshauna Peshlakai were killed in a 2010 drunken-driving crash caused by multiple DWI offender James Ruiz. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
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James Ruiz has gone to court to blame the restaurants that served him booze and a friend who let him drive drunk before the 2010 crash in south Santa Fe that killed two teenage sisters from the Navajo reservation.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday – precisely one day after the third anniversary of the fatal wreck in which Del Lynn Peshlakai, 19, and her sister Deshauna, 17, of Naschitti were killed – Ruiz seeks monetary damages from Applebee’s and the Blue Corn Cafe, as well as from drinking buddy Gilbert Mendoza.

Mendoza gave Ruiz the keys to the truck that Ruiz was driving when he rammed into the rear of the Peshlakai family’s car on Cerrillos Road.

Ruiz says that as a result of “causing and perceiving the motor vehicle crash and its effects upon everybody envolved (sic), the Plaintiff (Ruiz) suffered and continue (sic) to suffer emotional distress.”

The negligence of Mendoza and the restaurants who served him booze “was a cause and/or contributing cause of the Plaintiff’s severe emotional distress,” Ruiz’s suit adds.

The Blue Corn Cafe on Santa Fe’s Rodeo Road changed its liquor serving rules after the fatal 2010 crash caused by James Ruiz, who drank at the Blue Corn before the crash. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The Blue Corn Cafe on Santa Fe’s Rodeo Road changed its liquor serving rules after the fatal 2010 crash caused by James Ruiz, who drank at the Blue Corn before the crash. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Ruiz, a repeat drunken driver who was out on bond on his fifth DWI arrest when the fatal crash took place, filed the lawsuit himself without a lawyer. He’s serving a 40-year prison sentence after entering a guilty plea in 2011.

He maintains in his suit that he was “convicted and incarcerated due to the chain of events that the defendants” – the restaurants and Mendoza – “set in motion.” Ruiz says he “suffered and will continue to suffer from the emotional distress due to the loss of liberty and enjoyment of life.”

Last month, Ruiz filed a court petition seeking a new trial or reconsideration of his sentence, alleging that his lawyer didn’t provide him with effective representation. He maintained that he was led to believe his sentence would only be half of the 40 years behind bars that was imposed by former state District Judge Michael Vigil.

His new suit says that, on the day of the crash, Mendoza called him to “hang out” and they drank an unknown number of drinks at Mendoza’s residence before they went with Mendoza’s girlfriend to the Santa Fe Applebee’s. There, an “obviously intoxicated” Ruiz was served alcoholic beverages, his lawsuit states.

Without directly saying it, Ruiz’s suit suggests that he was served 22-ounce “Brewtus” beers at Applebee’s. The suit says Applebee’s markets the large-size beers and that at happy hour it’s cheaper to buy a Brewtus beer than smaller sizes.

Ruiz also maintains that an employee of the Santa Fe Applebee’s “had previous knowledge” that Ruiz “was a habitual drinking alcoholic” and that the employee was working the night of the crash.

Ruiz’s group next went to the Blue Corn, where they were served alcohol “as they became increasingly more intoxicated,” the suit says.

James Ruiz, serving a 40-year prison sentence for a DWI crash that killed two teenage sisters, has filed a lawsuit blaming the Applebee’s restaurant in Santa Fe for serving him alcohol before the crash. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

James Ruiz, serving a 40-year prison sentence for a DWI crash that killed two teenage sisters, has filed a lawsuit blaming the Applebee’s restaurant in Santa Fe for serving him alcohol before the crash. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

As they left – without paying, according to police reports from 2010 – Mendoza gave Ruiz the keys to his truck although Mendoza knew Ruiz was drunk, had previous DWIs and wasn’t in “his right state of mind,” the suit alleges.

Behind the wheel at Mendoza’s insistence, Ruiz says in the suit, he drove at high speed into the Peshlakais’ car.

The suit says Applebee’s and the Blue Corn violated state and common law duties when he was served booze while obviously drunk, “negligently created a dangerous condition” and shows “an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others.”

A spokeswoman for Santa Fe Dining, businessman Gerald Peters’ restaurant group that includes the Blue Corn, released this statement in response to Ruiz’s suit: “Our attorney has not had an opportunity to review the complaint handwritten and filed by Mr. Ruiz. Consequently it is not possible to comment, except to express the continued, deepest sympathy to the family of the young women killed by Mr. Ruiz, an individual who has long history of criminal DWI behavior.”

Santa Fe Dining changed its alcohol serving rules, imposing new limits on customers, after the Ruiz crash.

A corporate spokesman for Applebee’s said the company wouldn’t comment on pending litigation.

Mendoza could not be reached for comment.

The Peshlakai family has filed a wrongful death suit against Ruiz, Mendoza, the restaurants and others in the case. That suit is pending in state district court.

The Peshlakai sisters and their parents were in town for a high school basketball tournament when the fatal wreck took place. The parents were injured in the crash.

Ruiz, 37, had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.22 percent, nearly three times the legal limit for driving, police said at the time.

At his sentencing in 2011, Ruiz said he hated himself for not having the strength to save the Peshlakai family from the crash and that he would happily give his own life in exchange for the lives of the two girls.

But in a letter provided by his attorney, Ruiz complained that murderers are eligible for less prison time than he faced and said the criminal justice system should do more to help alcoholics such as himself. He stated in the letter that his struggles with alcohol were evident in his rap sheet going back to when he was a juvenile and that alcoholism required treatment to overcome.

Ruiz is currently in prison in Grants, according to his petition.

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