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Who Caused Tragedy?

SANTA FE — On Friday, the day of her death, 4-year-old Juliana Reyes Vasquez said something to her mother that gave a family friend the “chills.”

The girl told her mom “that she loved her so much and that she should never cry for her,” said Amayra Hamilton, recalling her own recent conversation with Carla Vasquez Rivera, Juliana’s mother.

Several hours after making that remark, Juliana — an adorable child who loved being a “girly” girl, according to Hamilton — died after a collision at a Santa Fe intersection that involved vehicles driven by her mother and Deborah Aaron, a local doctor whom police suspect of driving drunk.

Aaron, 56, a former surgeon at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center who has worked with Doctors Without Borders, faces a vehicular homicide charge for Juliana’s death.

But the charge against Aaron could end up changing because, so far, there’s no evidence that Aaron caused Friday night’s wreck.

Santa Fe Police Capt. Aric Wheeler said Wednesday at a news conference that police are “not able to rule out” that Vasquez Rivera may have run a red light at the intersection of St. Francis Drive and Siringo Road, just before Aaron’s 2004 Land Rover T-boned the Vasquez Rivera family minivan.

Asked what evidence police are pointing to that Aaron caused the wreck, Wheeler said, “I can’t.”

Wheeler was joined at the press event by Hamilton, a friend of the Vasquez Rivera family for 11 years, who was asked to speak to reporters on the family’s behalf at Santa Fe police headquarters.

Hamilton said that Juliana was a girl’s girl.

“She was a very lovely little girl, very girly,” said Hamilton, who said that Juliana “liked to play with makeup” and often wore her hair in curls.

Carla Vasquez Rivera was injured in the wreck, as was Juliana’s 3-year-old sister, Yeretez Jasmine Reyes Vasquez, who was airlifted to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque for precautionary care.

Hamilton said that the surviving child “is doing reasonably well,” but that she’s concerned for the mother because she’s in “tremendous pain” and is two months pregnant.

Hamilton met the family in Arizona, where she herself currently lives. She said the family, who are from Mexico, moved from Arizona to New Mexico recently. She described Vasquez Rivera and her husband as being “beautiful, hard-working people.”

Hamilton said the father, Adolfo Tapia, works at La Fonda and that Vasquez Rivera was on her way to pick up her husband there when the crash happened between 10:30 and 11 p.m.

Tapia ended up finding his own way home after his wife didn’t show up. He actually went by the crash scene and returned to it, after realizing that something was wrong and out of concern that his family may have been involved in the wreck, according to Hamilton.

Awaiting bloodwork

Police are awaiting blood results to determine to what extent Aaron may have been intoxicated Friday night. Aaron failed field sobriety tests and a breath test given to her at the scene indicated that her “breath (sic) alcohol content was at or above the legal limit,” according to a police statement filed in court before Aaron’s arraignment on Tuesday.

She told police after the crash that she drank some wine earlier in the evening, according to the report. But, even if Aaron was drunk, it may not be enough for a vehicular homicide count.

Before the news conference, Wheeler told the Journal, “We’re not positive it’s gonna result in a vehicular homicide charge,” meaning that, when it comes time for a formal indictment of Aaron, it’s possible that all she could face is DWI. The existing vehicular homicide charge against Aaron was imposed by officers the night of the crash.

Aaron told police that she believed the other driver ran a red light “because her’s (Aaron’s) was green.”

Under New Mexico’s uniform instructions for juries, a driver has to be “a significant cause” of a crash for a conviction on vehicular homicide. If it turns out that Vasquez Rivera ran a red light, it may be difficult to prove that Aaron was “a significant cause” of the accident.

Aaron, whose bond was set at $100,000, is out of jail, staying with her mother in Arizona. She will be placed on GPS monitoring and will not be allowed to drink or drive.

Aaron’s lawyer, Dan Cron, was the attorney for Scott Owens, who last year was acquitted on charges that included vehicular homicide for causing the deaths of four teenagers in a crash east of Santa Fe in 2009. In that case, jurors rejected the notion that Owens, who was driving drunk, was a “significant cause” of the wreck. At trial, there was testimony that the teens had been driving erratically leading up to the crash.

Cron said Tuesday outside Aaron’s arraignment, where she pleaded not guilty, that the police probable cause statement filed in court “didn’t say anything about causation.”

But the question of whether Aaron was speeding could complicate the case. Using crash scene evidence, investigators will conduct an analysis to determine how fast the vehicles were going before the wreck. If Aaron was driving significantly over the speed limit, that would factor into the District Attorney’s Office decision on vehicular homicide upon indictment — even if Vasquez Rivera ran a red light.

Investigators are piecing together an accident reconstruction and police are continuing their investigation before forwarding anything to the District Attorney’s Office.

As for the Vasquez Rivera family, Hamilton said that they “are having tremendous trauma with this situation.”

“A 4-year-old, healthy little girl all of the sudden, in a matter of seconds, is no longer there,” Hamilton said.

Funeral arrangements have been postponed due to Vasquez Rivera’s hospitalization. Financial donations to the Vasquez Rivera family can be made in the mother’s name at the Guadalupe Credit Union, 3601 Mimbres Lane, Santa Fe, NM 87507.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal