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Homicide verdict in girl’s death in car crash

Xavier Nelson (MDC)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jurors on Thursday convicted a 24-year-old man of vehicular homicide in the death of a 10-year-old girl killed when a speeding Subaru slammed into the back of her family’s car in November 2016.

Prosecutors alleged the Subaru’s driver, Xavier Nelson, was racing a Mustang southbound on Interstate 25 in Albuquerque when he hit a Dodge Caliber, sending both vehicles rolling and sliding. Carmen Esmerelda Rivera-Navarez, a fourth-grade student at Lavaland Elementary School, was thrown from the Dodge and pronounced dead at the scene.

After three days of testimony before 2nd Judicial District Judge Stan Whitaker, the jury deliberated for about four hours before finding Nelson guilty of vehicular homicide and not guilty of street racing. At his sentencing hearing, scheduled for early February, Nelson faces up to six years in prison.

Nelson is also facing a misdemeanor drug possession charge stemming from the same incident, which is being handled separately.

Nelson testified Wednesday that he was driving between 80 and 85 mph when the Dodge veered into his lane, according to his attorney. While Nelson admitted that his driving was careless, his attorney argued it did not rise to the level of recklessness. And he said that eyewitnesses described careless, not reckless, driving.

“He did not weave; he did not race. The blue Dodge merged from the left,” said his attorney, Maxwell Pines. “It was a terrible crash. It was a tragic accident.”

Pines could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Prosecutors said the girl’s family was headed home after picking up her mother, who had been cleaning a Northeast Heights office building, when their car was hit about 12:20 a.m. Nov. 12, 2016, near the MontaƱo exit. The girl was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, attorneys said.

Crash data showed Nelson was driving 107 mph at the time of the wreck and never used his brakes, according to prosecutors. But Pines argued there were discrepancies in the crash data, and he questioned whether the information was reliable.

The Attorney General’s Office assisted in prosecuting the case.