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Family of teen sues over crashed vehicle

FARMINGTON – The family of a teen girl who stole a San Juan Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle while intoxicated is suing the agency, claiming law enforcement had a duty to place her in protective custody even though she had not committed a crime until she stole the vehicle.

San Juan County denies most of the allegations in the lawsuit and argues the defendants are not liable for the actions of the plaintiffs, including the teen girl, who crashed the vehicle into a ravine and was injured.

Georginda Pierce and Samaria Gray filed the complaint in state district court on Dec. 18 against the San Juan County Board of Commissioners, former Sheriff Ken Christesen and Cpl. Cody Decker.

The complaint seeks an unspecified amount of damages for Gray and Pierce including attorney fees and litigation costs.

Pierce is listed as the mother of Gray, who was 16 years old at the time of the incident.

The matter has been referred to San Juan County’s insurance carrier and the county has no comment on pending litigation, according to county spokesman Devin Neeley.

The lawsuit stems from a call on the night of Dec. 18, 2017, which ended with Gray being charged with unlawful taking of a vehicle, aggravated DWI with bodily injury, reckless driving and no driver’s license, according to court documents.

Pierce had called dispatch twice that night about Gray, who was extremely intoxicated and was wandering the streets. She was found lying on the side of Bloomfield Highway.

Decker arrived at the scene and placed Gray in the back of his patrol vehicle. At this point, Gray had not been charged with a crime.

Pierce had called dispatch after she had trouble keeping Gray at home and said that her daughter was refusing help from her mother, according to the complaint.

Decker left Gray in the vehicle to talk to Pierce. During this time, Gray entered the front seat of the patrol vehicle and began to drive away from the scene.

She hit speeds in excess of 80 mph for about three minutes and hit three vehicles, sending one driver to the hospital.

Gray hit a curb, drove into a ditch and crashed into a fence. She was found badly injured, bleeding and holding a shotgun that had become dislodged from the patrol vehicle.

Gray’s injuries led her to be airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque where she was initially listed in critical condition.

The teen pleaded no contest to DWI and vehicle theft in an April 11, 2018, plea agreement. A May 2, 2018, judgment sentenced Gray to a term of probation to not exceed a year, according to court documents.

The lawsuit levies five counts, including negligent infliction of emotional distress, loss of consortium and negligence resulting in personal injury/battery.

It claims the sheriff’s office had a duty to train Decker regarding “call outs” of intoxicated juveniles, so that his patrol vehicle isn’t driven away without his knowledge and that the agency should have trained Decker to secure his vehicle and not leave his keys in the ignition.

It also claims Decker had a duty to place Gray in protective custody and not allow her to have access to the vehicle to drive off with it, along with Decker failing to properly secure and restrain Gray, according to court documents.

The defendants filed an answer to the complaint on Jan. 30.

It denies most of the allegations related to the incident, admitting Gray was not restrained in the vehicle but denying it was a “failure.”

It also denies the Sheriff’s Office had a duty to train Decker as specifically as the complaint gets, including placing intoxicated juveniles in protective custody and not leaving his patrol vehicle running with the keys in the ignition.

The answer also states the mother and daughter’s claims were not the result of the acts by the defendants, and it seeks to dismiss the lawsuit.


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