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Sheriff drops charges

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Accident probe: New charges, however, are possible

By John Severance

A careless driving charge against Dennis J. Bernal, the driver of the pickup truck involved in the near head-on N.M. 4 crash that killed a Los Alamos High School student and seriously injured a middle school student, has been dismissed without prejudice, according to documents obtained from Santa Fe Magistrate Court Friday.

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A dismissal without prejudice does not bar the state from bringing new charges related to the accident if new evidence is uncovered.

Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Joseph McLaughlin, who is handling the investigation, did not return a call seeking comment.

A statement of probable cause and an eyewitness account of the crash do reveal more details about what happened that Nov. 21 afternoon.

Bernal, driving a 2001 Toyota Tundra, was attempting to negotiate a right curve at the location, he alleges that he suffered a coughing spell and became dizzy. The report said as a result, Bernal lost control of his truck, allowing it to cross left of the double center divide line on N.M. 4 near mile marker 67.

The left front bumper of Bernal’s vehicle struck the left side of the 2009 Toyota driven by Jennifer Ventura-Trujillo, who had her son Nikolas Ventura-Arencon, 14, sitting in the left rear passenger seat and Divine Fellers, 13, sitting in the center rear passenger seat.

The report does not make mention of whether the two teens were wearing seat belts.

The report states that as a result of the impact, both vehicles rotated counter-clockwise and left the roadway on the west side.

Bernal was transported to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center where he was treated for a neck sprain, left ankle sprain and left foot contusion. Bernal was administered opiate-based medication for pain compliance.

Bernal admitted to law enforcement officials that he had taken a 20 mg tablet of prednisone for his cough at 6 a.m. that morning.

Because of Bernal’s injuries and the medications, the sheriff’s department did not administer a field sobriety test. Bernal, however, did submit to a blood test and those results are still pending.

Jose A. Archuleta, who was driving to his job as a member of the lab security force, was one of the first people on the scene of the accident.

Archuleta, who said he has yet to be contacted by sheriff’s investigators as of Wednesday, was driving directly behind Ventura-Trujillo’s vehicle.

“I saw the truck flipping through the air in front of me. It just went across the road,” Archuleta said. “I immediately put my flashers on.

“I got on the phone and called 911 and I ran to the driver of the truck who immediately got out. He was intercepted by a couple of other women and myself. We had him sit down and he kept repeating ‘I don’t know what happened, I don’t know what happened.’”

Another woman, who stopped at the accident, got Archuleta’s attention and told him to go to the car because Ventura-Trujillo was asking for him.

“She must have recognized my uniform,” said Archuleta, who works for Securing Our Country the security force at the lab. Ventura-Trujillo also works for SOC.

“I ran over there and I didn’t know it was Jennifer at the time,” Archuleta said. “She kept shouting. She asked me to call her husband. I called my place of employment to contact him and said that his wife had been involved in a bad accident.

“I looked inside the car. Jennifer kept saying, ‘My son, my son.’ I looked in the back and all I could see was an empty child seat.

“I was concerned and I heard moaning. And I looked behind the driver’s seat and I saw two bodies. A female (was) looking up with her eyes moving.

“She (Ventura-Trujillo) wanted to know how they were and I told her the female was conscious, but I could not get any response from the boy. The girl was facing up and he was on top of her.”

Very quickly, the Los Alamos Fire Department and medics were on the scene and they also tried to revive the boy.

“They kept saying we cannot get a pulse on the boy,” Archuleta said. “We had to get Jennifer out. We tore off the passenger door. We could not go in the driver’s side because there was too much broken glass. We got her down the through the passenger side and into the ambulance.”

The Sheriff’s Department then asked Archuleta to help move some of the vehicles that had parked at the scene of the accident so more emergency personnel could park.

Archuleta then looked at his phone and there were a slew of missed calls.

“Jennifer’s husband called me like three times and I told him I was sorry but I was kind of busy,” Archuleta said. “I was giving him directions to where the accident was when that photo of me was taken that was in the Los Alamos Monitor.”

Archuleta then went on to work.

“I was late and they were expecting me,” Archuleta said. “When I got to work, I had my blood on my hands and shirt. It was Jennifer’s. I didn’t want her to rest her shoulder on the glass and twisted metal.”

Archuleta said he did not suffer any lacerations.

“I was very careful about that,” Archuleta said.

“Anyway, my phone kept ringing and ringing. Finally, they told me to take some administrative leave and go home.”

Archuleta said he has a lot of law enforcement experience and has seen a number of bad accidents.

But this one was different.

“I knew who the people were who were involved in the accident,” Archuleta said.