ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jake Salazar, a retired Albuquerque police officer, has seen a lot of death.
“You don’t expect it to happen to you,” he said. “It’s still surreal. I’m living my worst nightmare.”
At approximately 1:15 a.m. Saturday, as his son Jacob Salazar, 19, drove home after visiting his girlfriend, a truck with a suspected drunken driver at the wheel veered over the median and into oncoming traffic, striking Salazar’s Ford Mustang head on.
Rescue workers had to cut through the smashed car to get Salazar, who had been wearing his seat belt and had not been drinking, out and to the hospital. He died before he got there, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Aaron Williamson said.
Williamson said the driver of the truck, Roberto Lucero, 34, suffered serious injuries and remained in the hospital Sunday night.
He said investigators suspect Lucero was drunk at the time of the crash, but they are awaiting results of a blood test they obtained with a warrant. Lucero will face charges upon his release, but Williamson did not know which charges.
Every Friday night for as long as they can remember, the Salazar family has gone out for pizza and a movie. But this week, because Jacob Salazar hadn’t seen his girlfriend for a few days, he went to her house instead.
“And he didn’t come home,” Jacob’s mother, Dolores Salazar, said.
When he left her house, he called his father to let him know he was headed home.
When 20 minutes went by, his father texted him to ask whether he was OK.
When his son didn’t answer, he called.
And when his son didn’t pick up, he went to find him.
As he crested a hill on Coors, he saw flashing police lights near the intersection of Las Estancias north of Gun Club SW.
He parked and walked up.
A Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office deputy called over a supervisor.
“He tells him, ‘It doesn’t look good,’ ” said Larry Salazar, Jake Salazar’s brother, describing how the father learned of the death.
Sitting in the living room of her West Mesa home surrounded by family Sunday night, Dolores Salazar described Saturday as a blur.
“I think we’ve had a lot of time to talk and reflect,” she said.
She said her family takes comfort in the fact that they have no regrets. There was nothing left unsaid.
“We said our ‘I love yous’ every night,” she said.
While they have no regrets, they don’t want other families to feel the way they feel. Jacob’s 15-year-old brother, Josh, said he hopes to get involved in organizations that work to fight drunken driving.
“My son has become a statistic,” Jake Salazar said.
But memories of him are strong. Friends and former high school teammates stopped by their house Saturday and Sunday.
Jacob Salazar graduated last year from Rio Grande High School, where he was the class salutatorian, starting quarterback for the varsity football team and a member of the golf team.
Rio Grande High School Athletic Director Pete Pino described Salazar’s death as a tremendous loss. He said he was witty, congenial, down to earth and popular among teachers and students.
Pino heard the news Saturday from the school’s assistant principal, who stepped out to take a phone call during the Albuquerque Metro Basketball Championship on Saturday and returned to the gymnasium in tears.
“I felt bad because this young man had the world in front of him,” Pino said. “He was gonna be somebody.”
He’d just finished his first semester at the University of New Mexico with a B in calculus and A’s in all of his other courses.
Dolores Salazar remembers he always loved Legos, so it was no surprise that he chose to study mechanical engineering. His father remembered him standing at the bottom of the stairs practicing his Lobo howl.
Pino described speaking with Salazar’s mother a few days ago. She told him that Salazar was doing well in college.
“She said, ‘He’s doing great,’ and I said, ‘Was there ever any doubt?’ ” Pino said.
Lucero was on parole at the time of the crash. He had been released from prison on May 8, 2015, according to a Corrections Department spokesman.
He had been sentenced in April 2014 to 730 days in prison on charges stemming from numerous probation violations regarding two different cases: a 2011 case of burglarizing a vehicle and a 2010 case of aggravated burglary in which he battered someone.
Behind bars, Lucero also finished out his probation in a 2008 case of possession of burglary tools, according to court records. Notes in court records show that some of his probation violations in these three cases were because he was caught using drugs, though what type of drugs is not mentioned.
His family could not be reached for comment.
He had taken a repeat offender plea in connection with the three cases but court records show he was not given an enhanced sentence. He served 403 days of his 730-day sentence when he was released onto parole.
He had also once been charged with DWI, in 2004, but the case was dismissed. It is not clear from court records why it was dismissed.
Journal staff writer Maggie Shepard contributed to this report.