Better Burque guesses we’ve reviewed almost 200 Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) pedestrian fatality crash supplemental investigation reports over the last few years. This week we ran across, hands-down, the most complete and illuminating such report.
The investigation by APD Officer M. Trahan (I only name the officer to laud their efforts) concerns the 4.15.20 killing of Mr. Gilberto Mejia by, allegedly (it’s still in the courts), a Ms. Ramona Ortiz. The alleged assailant made news (article limit/paywall) by admitting to investigators that she and her boyfriend “had a game” in which they often raced each other home down Central Avenue.
Mr. Ortiz’ frankness with investigators, after being read her Miranda rights, certainly helped M. Trahan and others involved with the case, and we’ll circle back to discuss that candor again later in this hopefully short essay. M. Trahan and APD were also assisted by:
- A remarkably high number of witnesses willing to report on Ortiz’ exceptional speeding,
- Surveillance video clocking, after Trahan’s analysis, Ortiz driving 76 MPH through the fairly nearby intersection of Central and Moon (when you’re driving 76 MPH, pretty much everything is “fairly nearby”),
- Further witness reports on Ms. Ortiz “erratically” driving post-crash to her residence, and
- Equally frank and almost comical comments (if all this wasn’t about someone’s death) made TO INVESTIGATORS by Mr. Ortiz’ boyfriend, a Mr. Jeffrey Vancliff, about how Ms. Ortiz “drives like a bat out of hell,” and that she “consistently drove 10-15 MPH over the speed limit.”
So sure, this is already much more of a slam-dunk investigation than 99.9% of the other hit-and-run pedestrian fatality cases, catching the fleeing assailant first and foremost. Better Burque is hesitant to report how many hit-and-run pedestrian fatality drivers are still freely operating on our roadways daily. It’s deeply disturbing.
Nevertheless, M. Trahan and APD go well above and beyond the typical level of investigation of such cases, especially those involving a decedent “crossing outside a marked crosswalk,” such as is the case here. In addition to not only finding surveillance video with Ms. Ortiz in it (that’s fairly rare), and calculating speed via that video (something that almost NEVER happens in such investigations), Trahan goes on to fully calculate Ortiz’ driving speed at time of first seeing Mejia (based on skid marks, etc.) and speed at time of impact, this after Trahan discovered Ortiz’ crappy old car didn’t have a working on-board computer (ACM or PCM) from which to extract such speed information.
Then, after determining, via a whole lot of trigonometry, Ortiz’ speed at the time she first spots Mejia (64.09 MPH), Trahan’s report presents a set of “Speed/Slide to Stop” calculations Better Burque urges be included in any and all “Vision Zero” publications ever put out by City of Albuquerque. Ever.
This is unprecedented stuff, at least in the roughly 200 pedestrian fatality reports Better Burque has studied. Understanding very well the workhours that must go into such depth of investigation, and that capacity for such work is stretched now more than ever, applying this level of speed research into more/all crash investigations would, in this blogger’s humble opinion, transform our understanding of driving speed’s overwhelming importance in pedestrian crashes.
We already know speed is important, but what’s lost now amidst all the “pedestrian error outside the crosswalk” noise is that many walkers, rightly or wrongly, decide to cross after calculating typical driving speed and making the call that it’s “safe.” All too often in looking through these reports, it’s fairly apparent that often (not always) outlier speeding drivers are killing these miscalculating walkers. Because the drivers are speeding.
The level of Trahan’s work here makes it infinitely more than fairly apparent in the case of Ramona Ortiz.
And what of *Ramona Ortiz, whose case at District Court appears to be stuck in a series of attorney changes and other delays 20 months after the incident? We do not yet know if **Ms. Ortiz will ultimately be found guilty of Homicide by Vehicle and Leaving the Scene, but we can guess her case has been placed in the “What NOT to do when you kill a pedestrian” folder by every defense attorney in town. Namely (based, again, on having gone through about 200 of these things):
- Don’t leave the scene of the crash. Even if going thirty MPH over the speed limit, walking “outside the crosswalk” will very much be your friend;
- If you leave, don’t get caught.
- If you leave and get caught, don’t let your boyfriend talk to the police. Ever. Some boyfriend.
- If you get caught and a cop starts muttering something about “You have a right to remain…” remain silent. Duh.
- And get an attorney.
Ramona Ortiz is embodiment of the perfect storm necessary to convict a driver of killing a walker “crossing outside the crosswalk.” Investigator M. Trahan’s work and report serves to help that possible conviction AND as vital precedent into how speed analyses can be incorporated into current/future pedestrian fatality cases.
Thank you, M. Trahan.
*A look back through the years at NM Case Lookup verifies her boyfriend’s account that she “drives like a bat out of hell.” She’s been up for many speeding and associated driving charges, almost always being found Not Guilty.
**Court records seem to indicate Ms. Ortiz is not in jail awaiting trial, although prosecutors attempted this action in months past. Her current freedom is constrained by court dictate that she “is not free to drive.” Be sure to tell her this if you see her, inevitably, on our roadways.