SANTA FE, N.M. — In the latest wrong-way crash on Interstate 25 near Santa Fe, a woman who admitted she’d been drinking and was driving south in the northbound lanes caused a three-vehicle crash that injured a pregnant woman and led to the premature birth of her baby.
Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputies arrested 26-year-old Leela Perez of Santa Fe on the charge of great bodily harm by vehicle for the Monday evening crash, Lt. Joe McLaughlin said.
Tarra Tull, 29, and her passenger Maxamino Ortega, 60, both of Raton, were riding in a Ford F-150 pickup truck, which was the first of two vehicles to be struck by Perez’s Subaru station wagon.
Tull, who was 29 weeks pregnant, underwent an emergency C-section at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center to give birth. The infant then was transported to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where he was put into a neo-natal intensive care unit.
McLaughlin said Tuesday that the infant’s prognosis was good. “But it’s a premature birth, so everything’s up for grabs.”
Ortega, in an interview with KOAT, said Tull was driving him back to Raton after a visit with the Veterans Administration in Albuquerque when the 6:30 p.m. crash took place.
“My girlfriend (Tull) starts screaming and I thought I’d done something wrong,” he said. “I looked up and that’s when we had impact with another car.” All he saw of the oncoming car was “the headlights for a second.” Their truck spun around about four times as dust and sparks flew, Ortega said.
“It was pretty scary,” he said. Ortega said he tried to keep Tull warm until an ambulance came. “She didn’t want me to leave her side,” he said.
When the baby boy was born at the hospital, “I was in two different worlds,” Ortega said. “I felt like crying and then I felt joyful for the baby.”
He said the baby boy, who hasn’t been named yet, and Tull “are doing OK.”
He also told KOAT about his own experience with drinking and driving.
“When I think about it now, it’s not cool,” he said.
“If I would have done that (caused a crash like Monday night’s), I couldn’t live with myself,” he added.
Perez, the Subaru driver, was treated at University of New Mexico Hospital for an eye injury and was booked at the Santa Fe County jail.
The other vehicle struck by her Subaru was a Nissan sedan driven by Louana Abreu, 30, of Las Vegas, N.M. “I’m glad I had a guardian angel with me,” she said Tuesday.
“I’m just thankful to be alive,” she said.
Both Ortega and Abreu were treated and released from Christus St. Vincent.
The pickup with Ortega and Tull and Abreu’s sedan were traveling north on a lane of I-25 nearest to the median between the El Dorado and Old Pecos Trail exits.
The Subaru struck the pickup first, then the Nissan. The collisions were offset and were not head-on.
Other wrong-way cases
Lt. McLaughlin said Perez showed signs of impairment and admitted to drinking. McLaughlin said investigators took a blood draw of Perez, which will show how much, if any, alcohol was in her body at the time of the crash.
The stretch of I-25 from the Eldorado exit east through Santa Fe has been plagued with wrong-way drivers over the years.
In 2006, a drunken Dana Papst of Tesuque plowed his truck head-on into a van, killing five members of a Las Vegas, N.M., family and himself. In 2010, Kylene Holmes of El Paso drove her car the wrong way into an ambulance after a night of drinking, killing herself and seriously injuring her passenger and the ambulance driver. There were no patients in the ambulance at the time.
Attorneys Dan Cron and Kathryn Fischer are representing Perez, but Fischer said they did not have enough information to comment Tuesday.
A section of I-25 was closed from the time crash until about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday.