Boy’s medical records allowed as evidence in 2017 crash case, judge rules

Elias Arellano walks into District Court in Santa Fe in April. Arellano is accused of causing a crash that killed an Albuquerque woman in 2017. The crash also seriously injured two others, including Arellano’s teenage uncle. Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican file photo

State and federal privacy laws will not prevent an Española boy’s medical records from being presented as evidence in a close relative’s trial on charges tied to a high-profile fatal car crash in October 2017, state District Judge T. Glenn Ellington ruled Wednesday.

It was Ellington’s fourth ruling against efforts by the defendant’s attorney to either dismiss a charge alleging he caused injuries to the young family member or to suppress evidence and testimony from the boy, who was 13 at the time of the crash.

More than 50 people flooded the courtroom in Santa Fe for the Wednesday hearing on defense attorney Tom Clark’s motion to suppress medical records for Greg Naranjo, who was flung from a convertible Chrysler Sebring driven by his older nephew, Elias Arellano, who is accused of driving recklessly and crossing into oncoming traffic on northbound U.S. 84/285 near Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino.

Arellano, 20, of Española is accused of causing a head-on collision with a southbound Acura that killed an Albuquerque woman and injured her husband. Naranjo was airlifted to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque in what law enforcement officers described as critical condition.

But so far, Naranjo’s injuries have not been disclosed.

Arellano, who also was injured in the crash, is charged with homicide by vehicle in the death of 71-year-old Lucy Fresques and great bodily injury by vehicle because of several broken bones and a chest injury suffered by her husband, Robert Fresques. But the most serious charge Arellano faces is child abuse resulting in great bodily harm, due to his younger uncle’s injuries.

The vehicular homicide and great bodily injury charges are third-degree felonies punishable by up to six years in prison, while the child abuse charge is a first-degree felony that carries a maximum sentence of 18 years.

Naranjo is the son of the Rev. Mike Naranjo of the Rock Christian Fellowship, a church in Española, and Arellano is Mike Naranjo’s grandson. In May, Mike Naranjo — better known as Pastor Mike by his congregation — argued his son’s medical records should not be made public as evidence in the case, arguing they were protected by a federal health privacy law.

“Courts shouldn’t be in a position to strip away a well-founded privacy concern that each of us has when we go to the hospital,” Clark told Ellington on Wednesday. These records, he said, should not be allowed in court without his parents’ permission, which has not been granted.

Prosecutors argued, however, that records of an abused victim are admissible evidence in court.

“This is the family’s attempt to thwart prosecution,” Assistant District Attorney Blake Nichols said. “The severe injury [Greg Naranjo] suffered constitutes child abuse.”

Before announcing his decision, Ellington said, “I have real sympathy for Mike Naranjo. He is in a very difficult position being both related and responsible for both the defendant and [Greg Naranjo].”

But, he said, both the state and federal governments have clear exceptions to health care privacy laws that allow medical information to be disclosed in court.

Robert Fresques, who attended Wednesday’s hearing, said as he was leaving the courtroom that he was satisfied with the ruling.

Arellano’s mother sobbed.

“My baby — it was an accident,” Esperanza Arellano said after the hearing.

The defense has argued Elias Arellano swerved that day to avoid a large truck that had cut him off.

Elias Arellano’s father, Daniel Arellano, said his son did not commit the crime of child abuse.

“That’s not child abuse,” he said. “There are real child abusers. The judge knows that, and the state of New Mexico knows.

“Voters need to pay attention when they go to the polls because this could happen to any family,” he added.

Daniel Arellano called his son “a good kid” — “He was in college up until he got detained on January 3, doing excellent in school; no previous criminal history; no drug abuse; no alcohol. The court knows it. Both families know it.”

Elias Arellano’s defense attorney has fought the child abuse charge, first filing a motion seeking dismissal of the count in a grand jury indictment. A second motion sought to dismiss the charge based on a lack of sufficient evidence that Arellano was acting as his younger uncle’s caregiver at the time of the crash. Ellington denied each motion.

The defense filed a third motion seeking to block testimony by Greg Naranjo and medical providers who treated his injuries. But prosecutors filed a motion at the same time requesting to have the medical records and testimony admitted at trial. Ellington heard the state’s motion and granted it.

The defense also has sought to prevent Arellano’s driving record from being introduced as evidence. He has faced six citations since 2014, including speeding and careless driving violations. Ellington ruled most of the traffic violations were admissible evidence.

A trial in the case is scheduled to begin Aug. 19 and could last roughly two weeks, with more than 30 witnesses expected to take the stand.

Fresques said he believes Elias Arellano should admit wrongdoing and serve time for the crimes.

Because he was airlifted from the crash, Fresques said, his wife died without him and was unable to receive her last rights by a priest.

“Nobody deserves to die alone,” he said, tears welling in his eyes. “And she died alone.”

Still, he said, he is glad the case is moving forward.

“I forgave him spiritually within days,” Fresques said of Arellano, “because I am a Christian. But the law of the land demands differently.”

Reporter

Rebecca Moss has covered the environment and Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Santa Fe New Mexican since j2015. In 2018, she was selected to participate in the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.