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Editorial: Airman’s death is a reminder that DWI still plagues NM

DWI in New Mexico is like a great white shark swimming silently in the deep – until it surfaces, and with powerful jaws grabs an unsuspecting swimmer or surfer with sometimes deadly consequences.

We were reminded of that recently with the tragic and senseless death of Air Force Staff Sgt. D’Andrea Smith. Described as a “gifted and talented” member of Team Kirtland’s Medical Group, Smith was driving to her Southeast Albuquerque home Nov. 4 when her car was struck by an allegedly drunken driver about 7 p.m. Witnesses told police Smith had a green light and was turning onto Chico from Eubank when she was hit. Smith, 28, was pronounced dead at the scene.

“The Air Force is a family and the death of any one of our wingmen is deeply felt by all of us,” said Col. David Miller, 377th Air Base Wing and Kirtland installation commander.

A Pennsylvania native, Smith’s obituary said she was serving as non-commissioned officer in charge at the KAFB pharmacy. Survivors include her wife, Breana Bradley, described as the love of her life, and beloved dogs Teddy and Chloe. Inurnment with full military honors was planned at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies.

The driver of the vehicle that struck her was identified in a criminal complaint as Mohammad Hassani, 22, who has been charged with DWI-related homicide. While being checked at the hospital, Hassani told officers he had smoked pot and had five shots of liquor – and was going about 70 mph when he hit the airman’s vehicle.

Hassani refused a sobriety test and was booked into jail. As often seems to be the case, the allegedly drunken driver avoided the devastating and fatal injuries of the victim.

The court case against Hassani presumably will go on, and it is incumbent on prosecutors to make sure he somehow doesn’t fall through a COVID-caused crack in the system.

And it is good to hear New Mexico authorities are planning to crack down on drunken driving throughout the next month – as we near the 28th anniversary of the DWI crash in which an inebriated Gordon House driving the wrong way on Interstate 40 at speeds up to 90 mph claimed the lives of Melanie Cravens and her three daughters – Kandyce, 9, Erin, 8, and Kacee, 5, in a head-on collision.

That case, and others that followed, sparked calls for DWI reform and tougher penalties. And we have made progress, although one insurance rating company earlier this month says we still had the 15th highest DWI rate in the nation.

News coverage of DWI, like all crime, ebbs and flows. The shark surfaces and then goes back under, out of sight. Last year’s high-profile DWI incident involved Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, who was convicted of aggravated DWI after he plowed into a vehicle stopped at a red light with a couple returning from a graduation party. Martinez refused to resign at the time; voters booted him from office and he opted to leave Monday.

Thankfully, unlike the crash that claimed airman Smith, no one died in the Martinez case. But it did for a short time refocus our collective attention on the problem.

With pandemic-related shutdowns and travel discouraged – bars have been closed for months – New Mexico’s DWI death toll is down in the face of statistics that say we are drinking more at home. But we still recorded 75 alcohol-related fatalities from January through October. Think about that – that’s more than six dozen people.

So this is one more reminder about the perils of drinking and driving in a state that has been plagued by it – with a death toll to prove it. Like wearing masks in a pandemic, we all need to do our part.

And it is a thank you to State Police, sheriff’s deputies and local police officers who will be manning DWI sobriety checkpoints on cold December nights in an effort to get drunken drivers off the road and protect all of us who venture out on to the state’s roads and highways.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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