Monday, May 22, 2006
APD Officer Involved In Fatal Crash
By Miguel Navrot and Jeff Proctor
Journal Staff Writers
An Albuquerque grandmother sitting at a picnic table with family members died early Sunday after a police car crashed through a cinder-block wall, pinning the 73-year-old against the table.
Flora Aragon had been in the front yard of the family home around midnight, enjoying the cool air and chatting with her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend when the squad car slammed onto the property.
The crash killed Aragon and injured the other two.
Crash Kills Grandma
[+] Click for photos from weekLucas Coshenet/Journal Shantel Perez looks at the shrine placed in honor of her grandmother Flora Aragon, 73.
Photos from this week's ABQjournal.com Journal Photos
But it is the police's handling of the crash, which happened on Crestview SW near West Central and 53rd Street, that family members talked about most Sunday.
As they gathered for a candlelight vigil for Aragon, they pointed out the dried blood stains on the picnic table.
"The police department's not telling us anything," said Denise Baker, one of Aragon's 29 grandchildren. "They're not offering condolences. They're being rude to us, like we're the criminals here."
A multi-agency group is investigating the crash, which involved a rookie officer identified as Zachariah Floyd, 23, Albuquerque police spokesman John Walsh said. Much of that investigation is expected to be completed this week.
"This is a tragedy, just an absolute tragedy," Walsh said Sunday. "The officer is extraordinarily upset over the events and, obviously, so, too, is the family of the victim."
The crash happened as police answered a domestic violence call in the West Side neighborhood.
Floyd, responding to the call, was preparing to park his squad car when another vehicle veered alongside, Walsh said. Floyd steered sharply, struck a curb and drove through the 2-foot high cinder-block fence.
The impact struck Aragon from behind, family said, pinning her between the car and the wooden picnic table.
The crash also injured her daughter Tonnie Sanchez, 52, of Albuquerque and Sanchez's boyfriend, Ismael Villalobo, 39.
Rescuers took Aragon to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
An inter-agency team composed of Albuquerque police, Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office and State Police is investigating the crash, Walsh said.
The local District Attorney's Office is expected to oversee and review the investigation.
Floyd is on three-day paid administrative, pending the investigation, Walsh said.
Neither alcohol nor speed appears to have been a factor in the crash, Walsh said. Authorities took breath and blood tests from Floyd after the crash.
"We've done breath tests and a blood draw, which is standard on all fatals," Walsh said. "In any event, neither of the two factors appears to have been present at the onset of this investigation. It is, however, still ongoing."
Walsh noted that the airbags on Floyd's cruiser didn't deploy. A deployed airbag can indicate high speed.
Walsh said it is "very unlikely" Floyd will face a vehicular homicide charge. He added that, for such a case to be made, the driver must either have been intoxicated or driving recklessly at the time of the crash.
Aragon's family disputed the contention that Floyd wasn't driving recklessly. The cinder-block wall that was toppled in the crash was reinforced with metal rebar, family said.
Further, they said, flying debris punched at least two holes in the home, one through an exterior wall and another through the wood door.
"We left this here because it tells a story," Baker said of the blood-stained picnic table, which authorities cut through to extract Aragon.
Baker said another granddaughter of Aragon's who arrived at the home after the accident was tackled by police after she started taking photos of the scene. Officers confiscated the camera and hadn't returned it as of Sunday night, Baker said.
"We feel the cops are covering up the incident a little bit," Baker said. Other family members agreed.
Baker did have compliments, however, for a violent crimes detective who personally offered flowers, condolences and assistance with memorial services.
On Sunday, as debris and fallen plants covered the crash site, family placed fresh flowers and photographs of Aragon next to the shattered picnic table. Photos included snapshots and portraits from when she was 10 years old through this past New Year's.
Aragon came to Albuquerque in 1965 from Del Norte, Colo., a town in the San Luis Valley. She had six children.
A parishioner of St. Therese of the Little Flower Church, Aragon retired as an inspector for Honeywell in Albuquerque, family said.
Services are pending.