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Man Who Killed Family Was Apparently 'Hammered' on Flight to ABQ, Passengers Say

By Kate Willson And Russell Simon
Copyright 2006 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Northern Bureau
    SANTA FE— The intoxicated Tesuque man who plowed his pickup into a van carrying a Las Vegas, N.M., family had apparently been drinking on his flight to Albuquerque before the fatal crash Saturday night.
    Passengers on a U.S. Airways flight from Phoenix said that a man who identified himself as a computer technician at the Santa Fe Opera was visibly drunk on the plane and that a stewardess asked if he had someone coming to pick him up at the airport.

Dana Papst

  • Las Vegas Mourns Family Lost in Crash nov. 14
  • Family 'Devastated' by I-25 Tragedy nov. 13
  • Driver Had 5 DWI Arrests; Crash Claimed His Life, 5 Others nov. 13

  •     Dana Papst, 44, a computer network administrator for the Santa Fe Opera since February 2002, died Sunday morning, a few hours after causing the fatal crash on I-25 just east of Santa Fe. Five of the six people riding in the van were killed.
        A blood test showed that Papst's blood-alcohol content was 0.32 percent, four times the legal limit for driving. He had previously been arrested at least five times on DWI charges in Colorado.
        Papst had been on a business trip to Sacramento, Calif., before the I-25 crash, according to Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano. He made a side trip to Reno on his way home and arrived at Albuquerque about 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
    Slamming Jack Daniels
        Cindi Bassing of Bloomfield, who was returning to New Mexico from a conference in California on Saturday evening, said the man she believes was Papst appeared to be drunk even before the flight from Phoenix took off.
        The man was talkative and told her he was a computer technician with the Santa Fe Opera, that he was married and had two dogs, although Bassing didn't get his name. "He said he was an adrenaline junkie," she said.
        The Santa Fe Opera employee bought two travel-size bottles of Jack Daniels and a Sprite, she said. Turbulence caused the captain to order everyone to their seats, and the flight attendants asked everyone to finish their drinks. The man then drank down the first and "slammed" the second, Bassing said.
        At one point, the man stood up, opened the overhead bin and pulled out his laptop computer. Then he sat down again without closing the bin. A man sitting nearby stood up, closed the bin and made a sign to Bassing like twisting his index finger to signify drunkenness.
        Bassing's boss, Sandra Adams, was also on the flight. William Adams, her husband, said Monday night that, on the flight into Albuquerque, Sandra sat across the aisle from the man believed to be Papst. Adams said his wife was unavailable, but he recounted her observations from the trip.
        After the man slammed down the drinks, Adams said, he kept passing out and waking up again. "His head was boppin', and bloopin' and turnin.' It was obvious he was hammered.
        "The pilot said they were 75 miles from Albuquerque, and apparently this guy got up and started getting his stuff and was going to get off the plane. The stewardess had to stop him and put him back in his seat," Adams said. Bassing gave a similar account of the man trying to walk off the flight in mid-air.
        At the end of the flight, Bassing said, she heard a flight attendant ask the man whether he had to drive home or whether he had someone coming to pick him up. She said he told the flight attendant that someone was coming for him. But she said he earlier told her and Adams that he had to drive home to Santa Fe.
        "When we got off, we thought they had taken care of it," Bassing said.
        U.S. Airways "had an obligation," Bassing said. "They should have held him. They knew he was intoxicated, or they should have handed him over to the authorities."
        Adams said the man told fellow passengers that he had made a "side trip" to Reno to party and that the town "wasn't all it's cracked up to be."
        Valerie Wunder, spokeswoman for U.S. Airways, said Monday that the airline is looking into the incident but couldn't confirm details.
        Solano said his agency isn't investigating where Papst consumed alcohol before the I-25 crash, though he said that, given Papst's level of intoxication, he isn't surprised to hear that Papst may have already been drunk on the airplane flying into New Mexico.
        The sheriff said he has no jurisdiction outside Santa Fe County. Even if he did, he added, it would be incredibly difficult to prove that a liquor establishment knew or should have known that Papst was drunk.
        Solano said that neither the airline attendants nor anyone else on the plane was under a legal obligation to notify authorities that they feared Papst was going to get behind the wheel drunk.
        Daniel Jiron, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Sunport, said the airport's aviation police were not called about Papst. He said a pilot can call about problem passengers ahead of landing and ask the airport officers to assist, but there was no record of a call regarding Papst's flight.
    History of arrests
        Meanwhile, according to Ken Ortiz, director of the state Motor Vehicle Division, Papst was arrested for DWI in 1982, 1987, 1989, 1990 and 1991 in Colorado. He also had an arrest in Wyoming, he said.
        But Papst got his Colorado driver's license reinstated in 1994 in Colorado and has been licensed ever since, Ortiz said, with no further arrests for drunken driving.
        In 1993, Papst got a New Mexico identification card, presumably because he was ineligible for a driver's license, Ortiz said. He applied for and received a New Mexico driver's license in March of this year.
        Rachel O'Connor, Gov. Bill Richardson's DWI czar, said Papst was eligible for a New Mexico license because he had served out his revocation in Colorado and been reinstated. Because he was eligible to drive in Colorado, it made him eligible to get a New Mexico license, she said.
        Papst's record in Colorado also includes an arrest for vehicle theft.
        Papst's wife, Stephanie Papst, who on Sunday said Papst was a good man and apologized to the victims of the interstate crash, was unavailable for comment Monday. A spokeswoman for the Santa Fe Opera also declined.
    Journal staff writer Martin Salazar contributed to this story.