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APD acknowledges longer chase of stolen truck

A memorial for Manuel “Manny” Tapia, the 15 year-old Cibola High School student killed while crossing Coors Bypass and Ellison NW. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Police now say officers followed the stolen truck suspected of hitting and killing a teenager crossing the street two weeks ago for “a lot longer” than they initially reported.

That contradicts two earlier statements – one that said officers did not pursue the vehicle at all, then a later statement that they pursued the vehicle for about four seconds.

On Wednesday, Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, told the Journal it appears that the officers had been following the truck – with their lights on – for a significantly longer time. He said the officers did not see Manuel Tapia get hit, but turned around when they heard the dispatch call about the crash.

“We were told that officers engaged for about four seconds,” Gallegos said. “Information has come out since then that it was a lot longer than that. How much longer I don’t know.”

The issue arose after a witness told the Journal she had seen a police cruiser – with its lights flashing – in pursuit of the blue GMC Sierra pick-up as it sped north on Coors Bypass just after midnight on July 17.

The witness, Helen Taylor, said she did not see 15-year-old “Manny” Tapia get hit, but came across his body at Coors Bypass and Ellison moments after seeing the two vehicles go through a red light at that same intersection. She said the truck and the police cruiser didn’t stop, and she could see them continuing up the hill toward Rio Rancho.

Taylor said it appeared as though Tapia had been thrown from the south side of the intersection to the right lane on the northeast side.

An internal affairs investigation has been opened to determine whether the officers were following policy.

APD policy states officers should not pursue stolen vehicles unless certain circumstances are met, such as the vehicle or its occupants present an immediate threat. If officers are going to pursue a vehicle, they must have authorization from a supervisor.

The names of the officers have not been released.

According to the initial statement from the department, the preliminary investigation found that the officers (riding two to a car) spotted the stolen truck, and as they “activated their emergency equipment and attempted a traffic stop, the driver fled in the truck. Officers said they turned off their emergency equipment and did not pursue the vehicle, but called out the direction of travel.”

However, when asked about Taylor’s account contradicting that, Gallegos clarified that the officers believed they may have been following the truck for approximately four seconds.

Scanner chatter recorded on the night of the crash indicates that, after the officers spotted the stolen pick-up at Coors and Coors Bypass, they discussed following it up to Westside Blvd. NW – about two miles away, and about a mile past Coors and Ellison.

Manuel Tapia (Courtesy Marcus Chavez)

A suspect, Juan Carlos Ramirez, has been arrested in the theft of the truck, which police believe was involved in the hit-and-run, but Ramirez has not been charged in the crash. The vehicle itself has not been found.

Attorney David Serna, a friend of the Tapia family, said he is still looking into the circumstances surrounding the crash. Tapia’s parents have told the Journal their son, an incoming sophomore at Cibola High School, was walking home from seeing the Spider-Man movie at Cottonwood Mall when he was killed.

“We’re in the process of conducting our own investigation,” Serna said. “We expect that investigation will go on for two or three more months before we make any other announcements.”

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