Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Was Cop Involved In Fatal Hit-Run?
FOR THE RECORD: This story incorrectly reported that police never determined who ran over and killed Jeremy Haskell in a July 2006 hit-and-run. Police say Ian Beach, 18, was the driver of the vehicle. He has been charged with leaving the scene of an accident causing death. His case is pending in District Court. Incorrect information was provided to the Journal.
By T.J. Wilham
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
Not long after a woman was run over and killed by a truck at an East Central bar, Albuquerque police officers called their boss and joked about how the driver seen in a surveillance video looked like him.
Now it's no joking matter.
Police are looking into the possibility that the man who ran over the woman while backing out of a parking spot is APD Sgt. Andrew Gallegos, a supervisor in the department's traffic unit.
Police said Tuesday that they think a man who looks like Gallegos unknowingly ran over Vera Haskell, 47, Sunday evening as she was lying next to his pickup in the parking lot of Sidewinders, 8900 Central SE. The driver did not stop after running over Haskell twice.
Gallegos is on paid leave while police investigate. On Tuesday, they searched his truck, which matched the description of the truck seen running over Haskell.
"During the course of their investigation, our investigators said there are too many similarities here, we need to stop, regroup and make sure we have the right people doing this investigation," Police Chief Ray Schultz said.
"At this time, we don't know if it is him, but because of the similarities and his position in the traffic unit, we felt we needed to put him on leave."
Haskell's son, Jeremy, was killed in July 2006 by a hit-and-run driver nine blocks down Central from Sunday's incident. Police say Ian Beach, 18, was the driver of that vehicle. He has been charged with leaving the scene of an accident causing death. His case is pending in District Court.
Police were immediately dispatched to the scene Sunday after witnesses saw a truck run over Haskell. APD's traffic unit was called to the bar about 20 minutes later at 9:59 p.m., according to a search warrant affidavit obtained by the Journal. Haskell died while en route to the University of New Mexico Hospital.
Police looked at four surveillance cameras at the bar and saw a man pull up in a maroon Ford pickup at 8:31 p.m.
He left at 9:40 p.m., when he ran over the woman.
The incident shows the man trying to back out three times before running over something.
Officers said it appeared that Haskell's body was dragged under the front passenger side tires for a short distance.
As officers watched the video, they joked about the driver resembling Gallegos, but "they dismissed the jokes since they were not able to get a very clear look at the driver in the video," according to the search warrant.
A few hours later, the officers called Gallegos, their supervisor, and told him they were stopping the investigation until the next morning because they had difficulty locating family members.
Officers noted in the search warrant that Gallegos "sounded normal."
The next day, an officer called Gallegos about 3:30 p.m. to update him on the status of their investigation. Police officials said it is normal procedure for officers to update their supervisor.
During the conversation, the officer made a comment to Gallegos "in a joking manner" about how the driver looked like the police sergeant.
"They both laughed it off and ended the conversation," according to the search warrant.
Three hours later, Gallegos called the officer back and inquired about how much the man looked like him.
The officer told investigators he didn't really think it was Gallegos in the video and wasn't worried about it. The conversation ended.
Five minutes later, Gallegos called again wanting to look at the video. This time, Gallegos said that he "went to a party last night and blacked out ... and was not sure what he did or where he was at."
The officer and Gallegos then went over what the driver in the video was wearing, and Gallegos asked about the color of the driver's shirt, his shoes, the type of wallet he had and whether the man was wearing a watch.
The two then talked about the truck, and the officer realized the sergeant's truck matched the one in the video.
The officer then contacted other supervisors, who called for APD's violent crimes detectives to investigate.
Gallegos hasn't been charged. Schultz has described him as a "person of interest." The chief said his investigators have been meeting with the District Attorney's Office to see what charges, if any, could be filed.
Haskell's sister, Verni Yazza, was "speechless" Tuesday when told about the investigation.
"To hear now that it may be a police officer. ... I can't think of all of the words to say," she said. "Whoever did this needs to go to jail for what he did. There is no way this could be accidental. To walk away from running over a person. ... How could you ever live with yourself? This is just devastating."
Yazza said she didn't know why her sister was at the bar. Tavern managers told the Journal that Haskell went to the front door, asked for "Juanita," realized she was at the wrong bar and left. She was there for less than a minute.
Twenty minutes later, someone came in reporting that a woman had been run over.