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Drunken driver defends suit

SANTA FE, N.M. — The man who caused a fatal 2010 drunken driving crash wants people to know that he is not trying to escape blame for the tragedy, despite his recent lawsuit against restaurants that served him booze and a friend who let him drive drunk.

James Ruiz, 37, who is serving a 40-year prison sentence after pleading guilty for the deaths of teenage sisters Del Lynn and Deshauna Peshlakai, apparently wrote a letter to the media from prison March 10, explaining that he’s trying to recoup money for family members who spent “a great deal of their life savings” on his defense.

A Department of Corrections spokeswoman said Wednesday the department could not “100 percent” confirm that the letter was from Ruiz, but said the inmate number on the letter matches his.


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James Ruiz’s father, however, said the letter was sent by his son. He said his son told him he would send a letter to media about the lawsuit.

Ruiz said in the letter that he wants to make it clear that he’s not blaming other people for his actions on March 5, 2010, that led to the wreck.

“However, the truth is that I want everyone else to take responsibility for their actions the way I’ve taken responsibility for mine,” the letter states.

Ruiz filed a lawsuit this month seeking monetary damages from Applebee’s and the Blue Corn Cafe, where he spent much of the day drinking, as well as from his drinking buddy, Gilbert Mendoza. Mendoza gave Ruiz the keys to the truck Ruiz was driving when he rammed into the rear of the Peshlakai family’s car on Cerrillos Road.

Among the lawsuit’s allegations are that Mendoza gave Ruiz the keys to his truck even though he knew Ruiz was drunk, had previous DWIs and was not in his “right state of mind.” The suit also alleges that an employee of the Santa Fe Applebee’s had previous knowledge that Ruiz was an alcoholic, and that Applebee’s and Blue Corn broke the law by serving Ruiz booze despite the fact that he was drunk.

Ruiz’s letter says he would give his own life if it would bring the sisters back, a sentiment he expressed at his sentencing.

“I could only hope that people understand that I am and will always be less of a person because of the events that led (to) their lives being cut short,” the letter states.

However, the letter adds, “Others also broke the law and they should and will also be held legally accountable for their part.”


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Ruiz’s father, Joe Ruiz, said his son’s defense cost the family between $75,000 to $100,000, and that he dipped into his retirement fund to pay for it.

“It’s the only place I could get it without getting myself into debt,” he said.

That cost doesn’t include two stints in rehab for James that the family also paid for. Joe Ruiz said the family did not keep alcohol at home and pleaded with their son’s friends to keep him away from alcohol.

Joe Ruiz said he had discussed the lawsuit with his son, but that the family is not seeking reimbursement for legal fees. Joe Ruiz said that, should his son be successful in getting damages, the family would likely set the money aside for him upon his release from prison.

But, Joe Ruiz added, “I don’t know that I’ll ever see my son as a free man.”

James Ruiz has also filed a petition in court seeking a new trial or reconsideration of his sentence, claiming his lawyer did not give him effective representation and led him to believe he would serve only 20 years in prison. The March 10 letter states that Ruiz didn’t make the filing to escape doing time, but to get the sentence that he bargained for.

The Peshlakai family, of Naschitti, was in Santa Fe for a high school basketball tournament when the fatal wreck took place. The family earlier filed a wrongful death lawsuit, also in state district court, against Ruiz, Mendoza, the two restaurants and other parties.