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Cracking down on road rage

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — More officers are patrolling Albuquerque’s interstates and major roadways in honor of Lilly Garcia – the 4-year-old shot dead in a road-rage dispute earlier this year.

“Operation Lilly” is targeting aggressive drivers, and hundreds of citations have already been issued as part of the multiagency effort, which involves state and Albuquerque police officers and Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies.

Gov. Susana Martinez, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and law-enforcement leaders announced the project Friday as they stood with Lilly’s family – who wept during the news conference at Civic Plaza.

Martinez urged drivers to “just breathe,” not overreact to slights on the roadway.

“One moment – that’s all it would take for cooler heads to prevail,” the governor said.

Lilly was killed in a road-rage shooting Oct. 20 on Interstate 40, near Coors. She was in the back seat with her 7-year-old brother when another driver fired into the vehicle, striking her in the head.

Police later arrested Tony Torrez, 31, who has a criminal history.

Lilly’s father told police at the time that he was trying to exit the freeway at Coors when another car cut across traffic forcing him out of his lane. When the two drivers “exchanged words,” Torrez pulled out a gun and fired, police say.

No one at Friday’s news conference suggested that the Garcia family was at all to blame for the incident, but officials said Lilly’s death is an example of what can happen when drivers lose perspective on the roadway.

“If you think your time is more valuable than your friends’ and neighbors’,” Berry said, “and you think it’s OK to be an aggressive driver … why don’t you come with me to the living room of a family that’s picking out the funeral dress for their 4-year-old daughter, and then tell me how important you are and how important it is that you get somewhere fast.”

Officers are handing out “Operation Lilly” placards to people they pull over, urging them to avoid making gestures or eye contact with angry drivers.

In general, Police Chief Gorden Eden said, people shouldn’t engage with aggressive drivers. Instead, he said, try to be a good witness by calling 911 with descriptions of the driver and vehicle.

Martinez addressed reporters as she stood with Lilly’s parents, Veronica and Alan Garcia, and grandmother Maria Cruz. The family didn’t speak at the news conference.

Operation Lilly began Nov. 19 and is expected to continue for three months. The state is paying officers overtime to step up patrols focused on aggressive driving in the Albuquerque area.

“We’re trying to intervene before it gets out of control,” State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said.

In particular, officers are watching for speeding, unsafe lane changes, following too closely, drag racing, failure to maintain a lane and texting while driving.

The state is also launching an advertising campaign.

Gov. Susana Martinez on Friday announced “Operation Lilly” – a multi-agency effort to target aggressive drivers. Standing beside her is the family of Lilly Garcia, a 4-year-old killed in a road-rage shooting this fall. Pictured, from left, are grandmother Maria Cruz and parents Veronica and Alan Garcia.

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