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15-year-old killed in early morning hit-and-run

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Manuel “Manny” Tapia loved superheroes and he loved drawing comics. The 15-year-old Cibola High School student, an incoming sophomore, had even painted the Marvel characters on the walls of his bedroom.

Manuel Tapia (Courtesy Marcus Chavez)

And, his mother told the Journal, on Tuesday night, he and a friend were excited to go see the new Spiderman movie.

Tapia was walking home from Cottonwood Mall, crossing the Coors Bypass at Ellison, when police say he was struck by a stolen pickup truck fleeing a traffic stop. The driver took off.

Tapia was taken to University of New Mexico Hospital, where he died.

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Surveillance photos show two people believed to have been involved in a hit-and-run that left a 15-year-old boy dead Tuesday night. (Courtesy APD)

No one has been arrested, but police have released surveillance photos from Route 66 Casino taken earlier in the night that they say are of two people “believed to have information” about the hit-and-run.

Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, said that just a couple of minutes after midnight, officers spotted a dark blue GMC Sierra pickup truck near Coors and the Coors Bypass.

Gallegos said the officers discovered the truck had been reported stolen.

“As officers activated their emergency equipment and attempted a traffic stop, the driver fled in the truck,” Gallegos wrote in an email. “Officers said they turned off their emergency equipment and did not pursue the vehicle, but called out the direction of travel.”

He said the officers — riding two to a cruiser — estimated they pursued the stolen truck for about four seconds before calling it off and turning around. He said they did not see the crash.

Gallegos said the officers heard the dispatch call reporting that a pedestrian had been hit by a vehicle, and they turned around and went back to the scene.

However, Helen Taylor – who was driving home from the airport around that time – tells a different story.

She said she saw the lights of the police cruiser follow the truck up the hill toward Rio Rancho.

Taylor said she saw the pursuit as it headed northbound on the Coors Bypass. She said she saw the truck blow through the red light with the police cruiser – lights flashing – on its tail. She did not see the crash.

“We just saw the truck go through the red light and we saw the police officer chasing after it,” she said. “We were right there, as well. We stopped at the light because it was red. As we were sitting at the light, we noticed the shoes in the intersection.”

Taylor said she pulled over, leapt out of the car and called 911 when she realized there was a body lying in the road.

“I got home and it was 12:47 (a.m.) when they called me and asked me to come back to the scene, saying it is now a police-involved incident and they needed more information, another statement,” Taylor said. “They asked me to come back down to the scene.”

Gallegos said internal affairs detectives are also investigating the crash. He said no officers are on administrative leave.

It’s against APD policy to pursue stolen motor vehicles. APD cruisers do not have dash cameras and Gallegos said the officers wouldn’t necessarily have their lapel cameras on while in the car.

David Serna, a criminal defense attorney and long-time friend of the family, said he is representing them and conducting an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash.

On Wednesday evening, dozens of teenagers, children and parents gathered at Seville Park in Northwest Albuquerque to remember Tapia.

Flanked by their family and loved ones, Tapia’s parents, Dionne Harding and Jose Tapia, held back tears as they talked about their son – the middle child of three boys.

Dionne Harding, left, and Jose Tapia, right, talk about their son, 15-year-old Manuel Tapia who was killed in a hit-and-run crash early Wednesday morning. (Elise Kaplan/Albuquerque Journal)

They described him as an artist who had some work showcased at the Hispanic Cultural Center last year. A flashy dresser with a penchant for bow ties. A talented boy who had an above 4.0 grade average and was always striving to be the best.

“He just taught himself how to play his brother’s piano,” Harding said. “Just took one afternoon and decided to play a song. He learned it, he Googled it, he was always like that.”

She said she has so many questions about the crash and the circumstances leading up to it, and has not gotten any answers.

“They were doing something so heinous I guess they could not stop or whatever,” Harding said. “I don’t know what they could have been doing that was so detrimental that they could not stop. And now my son is dead.”

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