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90 days, 5 years’ probation for woman in wrong-way DWI crash

SANTA FE – A Santa Fe woman who was driving drunk in a wrong-way Interstate 25 crash last year that injured a pregnant woman – forcing the premature birth of her baby – was sentenced Monday to 90 days in jail.

District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer agreed to give Leela Perez, 27, a conditional discharge, meaning Perez’s record will be cleared if she completes supervised probation after her jail time. The judge told Perez the requirements of her five years’ probation, including three with a GPS bracelet and hundreds of hours of community service, are going to “cost you a lot.”

Marlowe said she was not swayed by a gallery filled with dozens of Perez supporters who praised her volunteer work teaching children in Guatemala and South Korea, and working with child land-mine victims in Cambodia.

“I have to think of the victims in this case,” the judge said, adding she didn’t care if Perez’s group filled the courtroom. “You have not spent time in jail,” the judge told Perez, “and you need to.”

Perez, who tearfully apologized to the victims of the crash, could have been sentenced to a maximum of nine years and 90 days.

Referring to Perez’s clean record and her humanitarian work, Sommer said Perez’s case still was really “no different” than other DWIs. Perez had a blood alcohol level of .20 percent at the time of the crash, more than twice the legal driving limit. Perez pleaded guilty to three felony counts of great bodily injury by reckless driving and a misdemeanor charge of DWI.

In the March 4, 2013, wrong-way crash on I-25 between the El Dorado and Old Pecos Trail exits, her Subaru crashed into a pickup driven by the pregnant Tarra Tull, 30, who was with her partner Maxamino Ortega, 61, both of Raton. Perez’s car then hit a second vehicle driven by a Las Vegas, N.M., woman.

Tull was 29 weeks pregnant and underwent an emergency C-section at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe after the crash. The baby, named Felix, is now a year old.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry for the pain I have caused you,” Perez said in court, turning to address Tull and Ortega.

Both of them told the judge of pain and hardship the crash put them through. “I heard the doctor say ‘We’ve got to get that baby out of there now,'” Tull said in relating what happened at the hospital. “I just think she should have never been out of jail before I was out of the hospital … I think that’s not fair.”

Perez also has to perform 520 hours of community service a year for five years, including speaking to the Santa Fe Drug Court and high school groups on the dangers of drunken driving; undergoing DWI screenings; and having an ignition lock on her vehicle for a year.

Assistant District Attorney Jason Lidyard opposed the conditional release that can wipe away Perez’s convictions. “She put her own interests in front of the community,” Lidyard said.

Asked after the hearing if he was satisfied with the sentence, Ortega, the child’s father, said, “Not really. It is what it is.”

The family borrowed money after the crash and their home literally was being burglarized when they returned from the hospital, said Ortega. “I just want her (Perez) to have what she should get … she could have killed my family and herself.”