Alleged wrong-way driver faces DWI, other charges

SALAZAR: Accused in wrong-way driving crash

SANTA FE, N.M. — The man accused of crashing his car almost head-on into a pickup truck while driving drunk the wrong way on Interstate 25 in Santa Fe in December was charged on Friday with three counts of aggravated DWI resulting in bodily harm.

Three men from Pecos returning from a trip to Albuquerque, who said they were lucky be alive after the Dodge Stratus plowed into their truck, received moderate and minor injuries.

Alleged drunken driver Joe Salazar, 52, who was hospitalized for weeks from his injuries, was also charged with one count of reckless driving and one count of having an open container after police said they found an empty vodka bottle in his Stratus, Santa Fe police spokeswoman Celina Westervelt said.

Salazar, from Santa Fe, had a blood alcohol level of 0.21, almost three times the legal limit, she said. The police department and District Attorney were waiting on the blood alcohol results before charges were filed.

The charges were filed Friday morning, and Salazar will receive a summons to appear in court and an arrest warrant if he does not, Westervelt said.

Emergency dispatch 911 recordings, released Friday by the Santa Fe Regional Emergency Communications Center, show that Salazar was apparently driving in the correct lanes when a motorist first called 911 to report that a small car had passed them going about 100 mph northbound on I-25, almost hitting them. In later calls, motorists report he was going the wrong way, southbound in the northbound lanes near the Old Pecos Trail exit, as dispatchers scrambled to get police to the location.

“What’s the location of your emergency?” a dispatcher asked one of the first callers. “I’m northbound on I-25 heading towards Santa Fe. I just passed mile 265 and about two miles back a guy in an old green Alero probably, something like an Alero Pontiac, blew by me at about 100 mph and came literally within an inch or two of smacking into the side of my car as he swerved into my right-hand lane,” said a male caller. “This guy is either totally drunk or a lunatic or something; he needs to be stopped.”

What stopped the reckless driver just before 8 p.m. near the St. Francis Drive exit on Dec. 18 was a 2011 Ford pickup driven by Leslie “Les” Martinez, as he and two co-workers from his Custom Coachworks body shop were headed home to Pecos.

Martinez said his truck went airborne after the collision, landed on its side and rolled three times. Everyone in the truck was wearing seat belts and the truck’s air bags inflated, helping to save the occupants.

“With the reaction time I had, I was able to maneuver the truck a few feet out of the way, and if I hadn’t been able to do that, it would have been a head-on,” Martinez said a few days after the crash. “It destroyed everything; it felt like an explosion … every police officer who was there was amazed we walked out; the truck looks like a bulldozer ran over it.”

The dispatch center received no fewer than 14 calls either reporting the speeding car, its wrong-way direction on I-25, or the crash itself. One call was put through to the dispatch center from the State Police dispatcher.

“I just got off on Old Pecos Trail from I-25,” the male caller said. “A guy stopped right at the exit and turned around and went back down I-25. He’s going the opposite of traffic right now.”

“We are going to get someone out there and we are getting multiple calls on this,” the dispatcher told him.

Another male motorist called in: “I’m on I-25 going north just past the St. Francis exit. There is a car going in the opposite direction about 100 mph,” he said.

“So it was heading southbound in the northbound lanes?'” the dispatcher asked.

“Correct,” he answered.

A woman motorist called and said the wrong-way car “almost hit my daughter in front of me.”

After the Stratus collided with Martinez’s truck, a male caller said, “We have an accident right over here on the bridge. It’s on I-25 north, it just literally happened. It’s a severe accident; you need an ambulance.”

Then a woman called in: “I was just going to report the accident but the ambulance is already arrived here on St. Francis Drive. Oh, my God, OK, thank you.”

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