According to the police report, the accident occurred about 8:15 a.m. during wet, snowy conditions. Richardson rear-ended a vehicle driven by a Santa Fe woman while both were traveling east on Marcy Street at the intersection with Paseo de Peralta.
The woman told the police a yellow Jeep hit her car from behind while she was stopped at a stop sign. The Jeep then hit her a second time, hard enough to push her into the intersection, before she pulled over and then saw the Jeep drive away, the police report says. A witness told the Journal her rear bumper was dented and “hanging down a couple of inches.”
Caitlin Kelleher, a spokeswoman for Richardson, released a statement a few hours after the incident saying the former governor made “an honest mistake” when he failed to stop.
“Gov. Bill Richardson was driving in downtown Santa Fe this morning, when around 8:15 a.m. he was involved in a minor fender bender at Marcy and Paseo de Peralta on his way to the office,” the statement said. “He has spoken to Santa Fe Police, after what he believes was a minor tap on the bumper. After the tap, he looked around and did not see the aggrieved car. Governor regrets the incident and considers it an honest mistake on his part. He will be contacting his insurance company regarding this incident.”
Richardson told police he wasn’t sure he had struck anyone.
“Did I hit somebody?” he asked, according to the police report. “It popped a little bit, but I think it was like a little hit. … It was a stop light and I think I barely popped it.”
About an hour after the accident, Richardson was at the Roundhouse for a live interview about North Korea on MSNBC that aired around 9:30 a.m. Richardson, who also served in the U.S. House and was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of the federal Department of Energy under President Bill Clinton, was New Mexico governor from 2003 through 2010.
A witness from Rio Rancho who was at the same four-way-stop intersection but traveling in another direction told police the Jeep “failed to stop” before it hit the other car.
In an interview later with the Journal, he said he was surprised Richardson’s Jeep didn’t stop after the collision. “I just kind of figured for a vehicle to hit someone else and leave the scene was not right,” he said. “You wouldn’t want that to happen to you.”
He said Richardson’s Jeep struck the woman’s 2002 Acura and pushed that car into the intersection. When she pulled over to the side of the road on Marcy, the Jeep drove around the Acura and drove northbound on Paseo de Peralta. The witness said it appeared Richardson swerved to try to avoid running into the Acura, causing his left front bumper to strike her right rear bumper.
“It was definitely a fender bender,” he said, describing the damage. “The rear bumper on her car was dented inward significantly and hanging off the side of car where bumper meets the frame of car. It (the bumper) was hanging down a couple of inches.” The witness said the woman driving the Acura was unhurt.
“The victim was pretty startled and shaken up,” he said. “Luckily, she wasn’t injured – just shaken up like anyone would in a car accident.”
The witness told police that just after the collision, he saw the yellow Jeep parked in a nearby private parking lot and “an older male with a briefcase” get out of the Jeep. The witness returned to the accident scene, and the woman whose car had been damaged followed him back to the parking lot, but the Jeep was gone.
It’s unclear from the police report how an officer came to talk to Richardson. It doesn’t say whether police found the Jeep or pulled Richardson over based on witness descriptions before he was interviewed. The Journal reached by phone the woman whose car was hit, but she said she was talking to her insurance company. She could not be reached later.