Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Bar Tab: 6 Drinks in 2 Hours Before Crash
By Vic Vela
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Northern Bureau
SANTA FE — James Ruiz and two friends allegedly had several drinks at a Santa Fe restaurant — but did not appear overtly intoxicated — then walked away without paying the tab just minutes before he rear-ended a car Friday night, killing two teenage sisters.
Also, results obtained Tuesday show Ruiz with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.22 percent, nearly three times the state's presumed level of intoxication, hours after the five-car wreck on Cerrillos Road that killed Deshauna and Del Lynn Peshlakai of Naschitti and seriously injured their parents, according to the state Department of Health.
Ruiz, 34, of Albuquerque, and a male friend, whom police have identified as Gilbert Mendoza, each drank three beers and three shots of Crown Royal whiskey at the Blue Corn Cafe and Brewery, 4056 Cerrillos Road, during a two-hour period before the crash, Jeff Jinnett told the Journal on Tuesday.
Jinnett, president of Santa Fe Dining, which owns Blue Corn Cafe, said a woman with the two had three vodka drinks during that period.
When a manager insisted that the group eat food, Ruiz and his friends ordered an appetizer and another round of booze, Jinnett said.
But before the food arrived, the group left the restaurant without paying. However, the woman left her wallet and cell phone behind, so the restaurant charged her credit card for the $150 tab, according to Jinnett.
He said Ruiz and his friends left the restaurant just before 9 p.m., two hours after they arrived. It was soon after that Ruiz drove Mendoza's 2005 white Ford F-250 into the back of the Chevy sedan carrying the Peshlakai sisters and their parents, David Peshlakai and Darlene Thomas.
Deshauna, 17, died at the scene. Del Lynn, 19, died at a hospital a few hours later.
David Peshlakai, who was driving, and Darlene Thomas remain hospitalized. Santa Fe Police Chief Aric Wheeler said the parents were in stable condition when he visited them at the hospital Tuesday morning.
The family was returning home to Naschitti, south of Shiprock, after attending state basketball playoffs at Santa Fe Indian School.
Along with the sedan, the crash involved three other vehicles in front of it. No one else in the other vehicles was seriously injured.
"It's like a nightmare for me to think about," Jinnett said. "And it happens that this guy was at our restaurant before the accident. My heart is broken for their family, and the fact that he pulled us into this, it's just horrible."
After the group left, Jinnett said a restaurant employee called a number on the woman's cell phone, which turned out to be a relative.
"She said, 'That's my sister and she's been in an accident,' " Jinnett said. The woman and Mendoza both were in the vehicle at the time of the accident.
On Sunday, a waitress at Blue Corn recognized Ruiz's face in a newspaper article and said, "That's the guy who ran out on his tab," according to Jinnett, recalling a conversation with a manager who contacted him that day. On Monday, Jinnett went to the police with the information. He had not been in the restaurant at the time the group was there, but relayed information he had been given by his employees.
"I wanted to be proactive," he said. "As a parent, I couldn't imagine going through something like this. It makes me mad and furious."
Another restaurant that Jinnett oversees was a drinking stop for a recent high-profile drunken driving case. In November 2008, Carlos Fierro had drinks at the Rio Chama steakhouse in Santa Fe. Hours later, Fierro killed William Tenorio of San Felipe Pueblo near a downtown intersection.
"Unless someone is visibly intoxicated, you really don't know what you got on your hands," Jinnett said of the role of drinking establishments in serving responsibly. "You never have the perfect information. You can try to do the right thing, but obviously it doesn't always work out.
"There's no bar or restaurant in Santa Fe who wants to serve somebody to the point of them hurting someone."
He said a manager interacted with Ruiz's group but did not observe any signs of overt intoxication, such as slurred words or loss of coordination.
Ruiz allegedly told police that he had been drinking beers for several hours prior to the accident. His sample showed a 0.22 percent blood alcohol concentration, well above the state's presumed level of intoxication for a driver, which is 0.08 percent, Department of Health spokeswoman Deborah Busemeyer said Tuesday.
Ruiz — who attempted to flee the scene but was found in a nearby vacant field, where he was arrested — refused a Breathalyzer test at the scene, so police obtained a warrant to draw blood from him at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center.
The blood draw was taken at 7 a.m. on Saturday, about 10 hours after the crash occurred, Busemeyer said.
Ruiz said he started drinking about 1 p.m. Friday and that he had six or seven beers between then and about 30 minutes prior to the crash, according to a Santa Fe police probable cause statement.
Police are trying to piece together exactly where Ruiz had been drinking and for how long. According to the probable cause statement, Ruiz told police he, friend Gilbert Mendoza — whose truck Ruiz was driving at the time of the accident — and Mendoza's girlfriend had been at Applebee's that evening.
But Mendoza told police what Jinnett confirmed Tuesday, that the group had left the Blue Corn just before the crash.
"We're looking at the different places he was drinking at," Chief Wheeler said. "Until we have all the necessary details, we can't comment as to that, yet."
Wheeler said more information needs to be examined before police make a determination as to whether Ruiz's passengers will face charges, as was the case in the Fierro hit-and-run, in which former State Police Sgt. Alfred Lovato was also charged with vehicular homicide. Lovato was the passenger in the car being driven by Fierro, who was convicted of that same crime last year.
"Once we gather all the information we feel is relevant, we will consult with the District Attorney's Office to determine which steps we take with that," Wheeler said. "We want to hold people responsible as much as the law enables us to."
Ruiz is being held at Santa Fe County jail on a $2 million cash-only bond on two counts of vehicular homicide and driving on a suspended or revoked license. Ruiz has at least four prior DWI convictions and was awaiting trial in Santa Fe on a fifth charge this week, according to DWI Resource Center director Linda Atkinson.