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Family Mourns Sisters; 'Basketball Was Their Life'

By Jessica Dyer And Karen Peterson
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Northern Bureau

          SANTA FE — Ask about teenage sisters Deshauna and Del Lynn Peshlakai, and the conversation repeatedly shifts to basketball.
        "They were athletes — the whole family," said the girls' aunt, Virginia Garcia. "They'd played basketball since they were little girls. Their father played; the whole family played. Basketball was their life."
        It was basketball that brought Deshauna and Del to Santa Fe on Friday night, where they were killed by a suspected drunken driver in a five-car pileup on Cerrillos Road.
        The Peshlakais, who are from the Navajo community of Naschitti, south of Shiprock, were headed home after Newcomb High School's first-round state playoff game at Santa Fe Indian School when police say their Chevrolet sedan was rear-ended by a pickup driven by James Ruiz.
        Ruiz, 36, of Albuquerque has been charged with two counts of vehicular homicide and is being held in the Santa Fe County Jail. Police suspect alcohol was involved.
        He has a previous conviction for DWI, according to online court records, and was scheduled to go on trial on the same charge, stemming from a 2008 offense, in Santa Fe Magistrate Court this week.
        The girls were riding in the back seat, while their father, David Peshlakai, was driving. David remained in the Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center ICU on Saturday night, where he was being treated for a collapsed lung and broken ribs. The girls' mother, Darlene Thomas, was in the passenger seat of the car and was also treated at St. Vincent, Garcia said.
        "She has left-side pain, but she's able to walk just a little," Garcia said.
        One of the girls died at the scene; the other died in the early hours Saturday morning, Santa Fe Police Chief Aric Wheeler said. He declined to officially identify the victims.
        Deshauna, 17, was a member of the Newcomb team, the youngest in a line of five sisters who had represented the Skyhawks.
        "We're a basketball family," older sister Danell Peshlakai said.
        An early-season ankle injury was keeping Deshauna on the sidelines, but she still attended games, including Friday's match with SFIS.
        "She was here to support the team," Garcia said.
        Del had also played for Newcomb, Danell said. Today would have been her 20th birthday.
        5-vehicle wreck
        Family members said the Peshlakais were almost always the last people out of the gym after a game, waiting to leave until every player had left the locker room before heading home. Friday night, however, they didn't stick around as long.
        They were struck at the intersection of Cerrillos and Cristos around 9 p.m.
        Wheeler said police suspect alcohol was involved, and blood samples were taken from Ruiz.
        "We're taking the measurements necessary to prosecute the case properly," he said.
        Wheeler declined to comment on details of the wreck except to say the vehicles involved had been southbound on Cerrillos when Ruiz's truck crashed into them. The truck Ruiz was driving rear-ended the Peshlakai's Chevrolet, which then struck three other cars, Wheeler said.
        Eight of the 14 people in the five vehicles involved were taken to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center after the crash. Three remain hospitalized.
        Wheeler said he couldn't confirm that Ruiz's 2008 DWI charge was a Santa Fe Police Department case.
        But court records show that Ruiz was charged in May 2008 and pleaded not guilty. Jury selection in the trial was set for Wednesday before Magistrate Judge Richard Padilla.
        Court records show Ruiz has a previous DWI conviction in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court and an open-container conviction in Sandoval County Magistrate Court. He has also been charged with driving with a revoked or suspended license in Friday's crash.
        Wheeler said Ruiz may have ties to Santa Fe.
        Show of support
        After spending most of the day at St. Vincent with the Peshlakais, Santa Fe Indian School girls basketball coach Cindy Roybal invited family members to Saturday night's boys playoff basketball game between the host Braves and Thoreau.
        Roybal coordinated a fundraiser on the Pashlakais' behalf and asked if they'd like to take part in a moment of silence to honor Deshauna and Del.
        Danell addressed the gym's packed house during halftime of the game.
        "We are strangers to Santa Fe, and the school here has provided the family with a lot of support for the loss of our two sisters," she said, choking back tears. "I want to thank you so much for your support and sympathy."
        Alonzo Begay, the girls' brother-in-law, then gave a prayer in Navajo.
        "I just asked god for forgiveness and to bless our souls, our minds and our bodies" and to "guide us through everything we're doing now and help us get through everything," Begay later said.

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