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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect spelling of one of the victim’s names. It has been corrected below.
Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Jacob Jaramillo, the man accused of driving drunk and killing three people early Sunday, was arrested in October 2014 on a DWI charge, but prosecutors failed to make court deadlines and the case was dismissed this past August with the option to refile.
Prosecutors said Monday that several of the witnesses, including three law enforcement officers, failed to show up for scheduled interviews and they were left with no choice but to dismiss the case. They say they plan to refile.
Meanwhile, new details emerged Monday about the three victims – brothers Sergio Mendez-Aguirre, 23, and Roberto Mendez, 27, and Mendez’s girlfriend, Grace Sinfield, 20. Her father is the head of Sandia Prep, and the family had moved to Albuquerque just this summer. Mendez and Sinfield worked at High Finance restaurant together, and Mendez-Aguirre had just graduated from the University of New Mexico with a degree in chemistry.
Grieving relatives and friends packed the courtroom Monday for Jaramillo’s first felony appearance in Metropolitan Court. Many cried quietly throughout the hearing and clapped when Metro Court Judge Sandra Engel set his bond at $150,000 cash only.
“No more families should go through this,” Mendez and Mendez-Aguirre’s cousin, Edgar Aguirre, said, addressing the judge Monday afternoon.
Jaramillo’s mother said in an interview later that she was deeply saddened by the tragedy, which she insisted was an “accident.” She felt for the grieving family and hoped they could find the compassion to forgive her son.
The case in which charges against Jaramillo were dropped involved him and his friend Eleo Laycock, who were arrested Oct. 15, 2014, on charges they beat up off-duty sheriff’s deputies at a Downtown nightclub.
They said that the deputies recognized a friend they were with had an active warrant and told Albuquerque police, who then arrested the friend. According to police, Jaramillo and Laycock waited in an alley to beat up Deputies Nicholas De La Cruz and Rene Alvarado. Jaramillo then drunkenly drove away from the fight, crashing into a gas meter while fleeing.
The case was dismissed July 1 of this year when Laycock’s defense attorney argued that the case, which was joined with Jaramillo’s, couldn’t go forward because “only one witness” of at least six witnesses, including the two deputies and Albuquerque police officers, appeared “at the scheduled interviews.” Jaramillo’s case was officially dismissed Aug. 11.
The state Supreme Court in February issued tight new deadlines that apply only to District Court in an effort to clear a huge backlog of criminal cases contributing to overcrowding at the Metropolitan Detention Center jail. One of the new Case Management Order rules requires prosecutors to provide evidence, including interviews, on a strict timeline.
Alvarado was the only one to attend an interview, meaning prosecutors could not provide the other information to defense attorneys on the required timeline, according to court records.
Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Aaron Williamson said Monday that De La Cruz, who worked the graveyard shift, did not receive his notice that he was to appear for an interview on the afternoon of June 22.
District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Kayla Anderson provided an email that was sent to the sheriff’s office court liaison requesting De La Cruz’s presence at the interview. Williamson said De La Cruz reported that he never received that request.
Jaramillo’s mother speaks
Jaramillo’s mother, Beatrice Jaramillo, on Monday said in regards to the Oct. 15 incidents that her son was just trying to stand up for his friends, whom she called a bad influence on her son.
And she said the crash Sunday, in which police said Jaramillo, 23, was “extremely intoxicated” as he ran a red light and smashed into a car, killing Sinfield, Mendez-Aguirre and Mendez, was surely an accident.
“I feel so, so bad for that family. I pray that they can find some compassion in their hearts to forgive my son,” Beatrice Jaramillo said in tears from her apartment near Candelaria and Adams on Monday afternoon. “I’m so sad for them. But I hope they (the court) are lenient with my son. It was an accident.”
She said her son told her the light was yellow not red when he crossed into the intersection of the Interstate 25 and Interstate 40 frontage roads Sunday. The car he smashed into rolled onto its roof.
Mendez-Aguirre and Sinfield were pronounced dead at the scene; Mendez was transported to a local hospital where he died.
Jaramillo told police that he’d consumed one beer and was on his way home, according to a criminal complaint.
‘He is a grown man’
His mother said that when he has driven drunk in the past, he always drove too slow, not too fast. She sometimes worried that he would be the one hit because he was driving slow, she said.
And she said she always yelled at her son when she thought he was going to drive drunk.
“But he is a grown man,” she said.
Jaramillo lived with her and his younger brother in a public housing apartment, for which he paid half the rent. His mother paid half from her wages working as a gas station clerk.
She said her son had worked for months for a furniture store and was doing well in life, having graduated from Bernalillo High School and having survived a less than wealthy childhood with an emotionally and financially absent father, who recently died.
“He’s done so good,” she said, through tears. “I’m just so sad for that family. They were so young.”
On their way home
Mendez, Mendez-Aguirre and Sinfield were driving home at about 12:30 a.m. after a family get-together, a friend said after the court hearing Monday. The friend said it was Sinfield’s first time meeting Mendez’s family.
When setting bond for Jaramillo, Engel called his criminal history “concerning” before increasing his bond from $105,000 cash or surety set Sunday night to $150,000.
In addition to the off-duty deputy fight, Jaramillo has been charged in the past with beating his girlfriend. That case was dismissed when the girlfriend didn’t show up as a witness. He also has traffic violations for playing his music too loud in his vehicle and for possessing marijuana.
He faces three charges of vehicular homicide in the Sunday crash.
Still in shock
Sinfield’s sister Gabriella Sinfield, 16, said she is still in shock over the loss of her older sister.
“I woke up hearing my mom crying, looked over my balcony and the police were there,” she said.
She keeps thinking of the countless future events that her sister will miss.
“She was always supposed to be my maid of honor, she was supposed to spoil my children,” Gabriella said. Her family had recently relocated to Albuquerque, where her father, Bill Sinfield, started working in July as the head of school at Sandia Preparatory School.
On Monday, a letter signed by a member of the school’s board of trustees was posted on the school’s alumni association Facebook page expressing condolences.
Bill Sinfield took over as head of school in July; he’d most recently served as headmaster at a day school in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Where they worked
Sinfield and Mendez both worked at High Finance, a restaurant located on Sandia Peak. She was a hostess, he was a server, Gabriella said. The two had been dating since the summer and Gabriella said her sister, always the independent one, fell fast for Mendez.
Annaluz Jaramillo described Mendez-Aguirre, her best friend, as analytical, reserved and smart. He graduated with honors in May from UNM with a degree in chemistry.
“It’s just really unfair,” she said. “He and his brother were just beautiful lights, unique lights.”
Annaluz Jaramillo, who is not related to the defendant, also graduated from UNM in May. During their undergraduate years, she and Mendez-Aguirre both spent time in El Salvador volunteering with an organization that provides free medical care.
“I planned to have him in my life forever,” Annaluz Jaramillo said. “I loved him so deeply.”