Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly reported who authorities believe may have been under the influence. It has been corrected below.
The roads on the far west side of Albuquerque slice and swerve through large subdivisions and ever-shrinking swaths of sage and saltbush. At certain stretches, it is perhaps too easy to travel those wide-open, unfettered roads at speeds far faster than the posted 35-mph limit.
That speed can be deadly.
A year ago, on the night before Thanksgiving, speed was blamed in a double-fatal crash at Irving and Universe NW when a car carrying cousins Kayden and Jakob Montoya was T-boned by a Camaro that was flying along one of those roads at 106 mph, according to court documents.
Kayden, 23, died at the scene. Jakob, 19, died soon afterward.
Dominic Martinez, the 22-year-old driver of the Camaro, was charged months later with two counts of vehicular homicide, plus other charges involving the injuries to his two passengers. Charges also indicate that Martinez may have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the crash.
Since then, relatives and friends of the cousins have waited for justice to take its course – trial is set for July 27. And they have implored the city to make improvements to the intersection to make it safer.
“We want to know why we can’t do something to prevent another tragedy,” said Suellen Sullivan, a longtime family friend who thought of Kayden and Jakob as her nephews. “Why do we have to wait for more deadly crashes before change happens?”
An initial city Department of Municipal Development evaluation found no reason to modify the intersection.
“The data does not indicate any inherent safety issues with the intersection,” an email sent last April to the family from the city department says. “The crash rate is less than half of the region’s average and at least six times or more below the crash rates of the 10 intersections in Albuquerque with the highest crash rates.”
But relatives and friends were undeterred. This week, just days before the first anniversary of that tragic night, they initiated a petition asking again for the improvements, which range from adding a roundabout, turn signals, speed bumps or rumble strips.
The petition – titled “Improve the Dangerous & Unsafe Intersection of Irving and Universe Ave ABQ NM Save Lives!!” – at last check was 55 signatures away from its goal of 500 and has already gotten the attention of City Councilor Cynthia Borrego, in whose district the intersection lies.
Borrego said that since the first evaluation, more crashes have occurred at Irving and Universe, and she’s received more complaints from constituents about the intersection.
“So I’ve asked the DMD to take another look,” she said.
Once the engineers have re-evaluated the area, Borrego said she will hold a public meeting to present suggested solutions to the community.
Irving snakes along the east-west corridor from Coors to the city’s western edge. At this intersection, it is four lanes across, not including turn bays. The intersection has traffic lights but no turn arrow. The speed limit is 35 mph.
Standing on Irving west of Universe on a graveled easement near a descanso marked with the letters “J” and “K,” it is not hard to imagine the death that occurred here, not hard to feel the sorrow that still hangs in the gray air.
It had started out as a jovial time. Kayden was doing well as a manager at Vector Marketing in Rio Rancho and was looking forward to hosting his first Thanksgiving for family in the Ventana Ranch home he shared with girlfriend Athena Lopez and her 7-year-old son, Landon.
Among those who planned to be at the feast were Kayden’s father, James Montoya, and cousin Jakob. Both had traveled together from their homes in Colorado.
Priscilla Padilla Griego, grandmother to the cousins and James’ mother, was supposed to be there, too.
“Kayden wanted to be rich by the time he was 30,” Griego said. “And Jakob, who worked in a painting business with his dad, wanted everybody to be happy.”
Her grandsons were raised together like brothers by their dads after Kayden’s mother died and Jakob’s mother left, she said.
On the night before Thanksgiving, Kayden and Jakob were going to Kayden’s office in Rio Rancho to pick up a TV cable so that guests could watch football. They headed east on Irving and made a left turn on northbound Universe when the Camaro, heading west on Irving, struck them in the intersection, causing the cousins’ Nissan Altima to roll.
It was over so quickly.
But for the cousins’ family and friends, the nightmare had just begun. And so did their fight.
A year later, the fight continues, not just for them, but for all who travel the unfettered roads far west.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.