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During a televised debate on Tuesday, mayoral hopeful and Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales hit incumbent Tim Keller with a series of allegations, including one about “a high-ranking city official who was driving drunk, and was involved in driving a city vehicle and involved in a crash.”
Gonzales didn’t mention the official by name, but his campaign later confirmed Gonzales was referring to Chief Operations Officer Lawrence Rael.
In a statement Thursday, city spokeswoman Ava Montoya confirmed Rael was in an accident but called the drunken-driving allegations by Gonzales “false, defamatory and sadly motivated purely by political gain.”
The DWI allegation centers on a fender-bender Rael got into on Sept. 14 while driving a city vehicle. The incident occurred around 9:45 a.m. as Rael was driving on Fifth, turned left on a green light at Tijeras. That’s around the corner from City Hall. He hit a black truck, according to a city of Albuquerque Risk Management report stamped on Sept. 29.
The Journal was unable to reach the driver of the truck on Thursday, but she told KOAT-TV she didn’t think Rael was intoxicated.
After the crash, she told the station, Rael approached her before she could get out of her truck. She said Rael gave her his card and said he worked for the mayor.
“It was real simple… Real weird, no cop, it was real simple, real fast,” the woman told KOAT.
A local media website posted a story about it last week, reporting that Rael did not call police or follow city policy.
City policy requires employees in city vehicles to call police if they get into an accident, and Montoya acknowledges that that process wasn’t followed, though she said he did report the incident to Risk Management.
“Following City procedures, Rael went immediately to Risk Management. He was instructed to fill out a form, which he did,” Montoya said. “Risk Management then resolves these situations following normal protocols.” She said no alcohol was involved.
Montoya said the crash resulted in minor damage to both vehicles and no injuries. She said the driver of the truck was compensated $1,116 for the damages to her vehicle.
“Rael and the other driver both agreed to exchange information and due to the minor nature of the accident, neither driver felt it was necessary to tie up law enforcement,” Montoya said.