ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Roberto Lucero’s run-ins with police started at age 14. Summarizing his long police and court encounter history since then: he was the meth-addicted guy in Albuquerque who stole from tourist vehicles parked at hotels, beat up his girlfriend.
And, if Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies are right, he drove under some sort of chemical influence and killed Jacob Salazar, a 19-year-old Rio Grande High School graduate who was a popular athlete, star student and ambitious University of New Mexico freshman on a scholarship.
Since the early Saturday morning crash, Lucero has been at the University of New Mexico Hospital, where the sheriff’s department says he is expected to survive but likely will need “extensive care” and won’t be out “in the near future.” He won’t be charged in connection with the crash until he is released.
He will likely be charged with vehicular homicide, and since he has already been found to be a repeat offender, his family expects him to go back to prison, they say, leaving behind his 1-year-old daughter.
But that’s their burden, the Lucero family says, and they don’t want their family’s suffering to detract or distract from the real sorrow of the crash – Salazar’s death.
“I know my brother did an awful thing,” his oldest sister Sofia Lucero told the Journal . “I don’t want the other family to think we are making excuses or trying to justify. I feel so, so bad for them I haven’t even slept. I had to make my mom eat the other night. We are very sorry. So sorry.”
Salazar, a popular and ambitious son of a teacher and police officer, was killed in the crash while he was on his way home from visiting his girlfriend.
Lucero might also have been visiting a girlfriend that night, his mother, Judy Lucero, said Tuesday, but she wasn’t really sure where he was going.
While her son has almost always lived with her, he also kept events in his life private.
He didn’t tell her that he was actually charged and found responsible for punching his girlfriend in 2001.
Or that he was arrested and charged with pointing a gun at a group of school kids walking with someone he wanted to fight in May 2010.
Or why exactly he was breaking into a vehicle in 2009, a charge that would eventually land him in prison.
Or about the bomb threat and other shootings, fights, thefts and forgeries that make up his police record since he turned 14 in 1995.
“It’s like he lived a double life,” she said. “I know my son has a past. But now that he knows he has a daughter, he changed. And he doesn’t drink and drive. He’s the guy who takes people’s keys if they are (drunk).”
It’s true. He does not have a history of habitual drunken driving. His only DWI arrest as an adult was dismissed shortly after it was filed in 2004.
His court history shows he has had a methamphetamine, not an alcohol, addiction, one his mother Judy Lucero said he kicked when he was in prison. Prison officials, though, said Lucero was not enrolled in the drug addiction treatment or counseling in prison because he wasn’t sentenced for drug crimes.
That is why she was shocked when sheriff’s deputies pulled up to the Lucero home in the South Valley in the wee Saturday morning hours, telling her that her only son, her youngest child, had been driving drunk and killed someone.
His sister Sofia Lucero said, “He’s going to be devastated when he finds out. I know it is easy to look at someone with a past and say they are bad. But he is a good man, generous, kind. He is going to just be devastated.”
Salazar was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital. He leaves behind two siblings and his parents. He had just completed his first semester at UNM, where he, the salutatorian of the 2015 Rio Grande High School class, was studying engineering.
Lucero also attended Rio Grande High, but he dropped out during “teenage rebellion,” his mother said.
He didn’t really start using drugs until the death of his father in 2004 when Lucero was 23. His mother remembers her son first acting out and rebelling at about age 6, when his father was badly burned and couldn’t remember who his children and wife were. And then his grandfather was killed by a drunken driver.
“That’s when it really started,” she said, noting the father’s memory loss.
Lucero’s sister said by that time she had moved out of the house and wasn’t aware of all of her brother’s run-ins with police.
“But that’s not us. That’s not how our father raised us. I’m not like that. My sister isn’t like that,” she said.
“My brother has a past, but he was also very kind and generous. People make mistakes and some are unforgivable. This is unforgivable. Still, he’s my brother.”
And she said while her brother indeed has a history of run-ins with police, his past didn’t indicate that he would do what deputies say he did Saturday night.
“In all actuality, (his past) doesn’t play a factor in what happened that night,” Sofia Lucero said.
But she doesn’t know what does.
Lucero had started to “grow up and care” about his life now that he has a daughter.
Judy Lucero is raising the daughter, who was born while he was in prison serving out a sentence in connection with two aggravated burglary cases.
In one of the cases, he and some associates were caught breaking into out-of-state vehicles in the parking lot of the Marriott near Louisiana and Interstate 40. Police records show they shot at security guards as they tried to escape.
Since his release, his mother and sister say he’s been concentrating on raising his daughter. He wasn’t working but had enrolled in a state program for felons seeking work.
“He was doing so good,” his mother said.
Lucero had sold some junk cars in the family’s backyard to help raise money for his niece’s college tuition at the University of New Mexico. He baby-proofed the house and made a point to read books to his daughter every day.
His family hasn’t been allowed to see Lucero and say they haven’t even been allowed to get a medical update to know if he is in a coma or what bones are broken.
Both he and Salazar had to be cut out of their vehicles.
A hospital spokesman said law enforcement can keep the medical conditions of patients who are in custody private, even from family, though family can, in some circumstances, get information from medical staff at the discretion of the staff under privacy rules.
Bernalillo County sheriff’s Sgt. Aaron Williamson said Tuesday that Lucero is expected to survive. He said law enforcement does not block medical information from families.
“His injuries require him to be in the hospital for an extended period of time,” he said.
Williamson said until he is released, which won’t likely be soon, his room is guarded by a deputy to make sure “he doesn’t walk off or someone doesn’t wheel him out.”