Aspen Maestas was driving from Española to her home in Hernández in September 2018 when she noticed a white Honda weaving in front of her and decided to keep her distance.
“He was swerving really bad to the left and to the right,” she recalled in a recent phone interview, “even into the other lane a few times.”
Then she saw the car veer across the center line and strike a man on a motorcycle.
“I saw his body fly up in the air and then fall where it landed,” Maestas said.
“When I went to talk to him I was like, ‘Sir, are you OK?’ And he said ‘No. I can’t breathe. Tell my wife and kids that I love them.’ Then I seen him take a breath and let it out and that was it.”
Maestas said she then went to check on the driver of the Honda.
“I asked him if he was OK and he said ‘Leave me the bleep alone!’ ” she said, adding that she noticed bottles and needles in the man’s vehicle.
“It was awful,” she said. “It was probably the worst thing I ever went through.”
Maestas sat in an ambulance after the incident, “traumatized,” and wrote out her statement for police, she said. But, aside from insurance adjusters, no one since had asked her about the case until a reporter called late last month.
Although the motorcyclist died at the scene, and a sheriff’s deputy who investigated the incident wrote that there was evidence to charge the Honda driver with homicide by vehicle, no charge has ever been filed. And with the case languishing more than a year later, the victim’s family is wondering what is going on.
The motorcyclist was John Gregory Camp, a defense attorney and former public defender from Santa Fe who had been on his way to a court appearance in Tierra Amarilla.
“I really wish the district attorney would investigate or something,” Yoon Jung Lee Camp, Camp’s wife of 14 years, said in a recent phone interview. “But I didn’t hear anything. I don’t know what is wrong. Is the case closed or are they still doing something? The whole family keeps asking me but I keep telling them I didn’t hear anything from the district attorney.”
Camp’s younger brother, Darrin Camp, echoed her concerns about the Sept. 17, 2018, crash.
“We’re frustrated because nothing has really been done about it yet, and we would like to see some justice done,” he said. “My parents have gone through a lot, and my brother’s wife has gone through, obviously, a horrible amount of pain, and we’d like to see something resolve from this. To basically go a year without any information is just a little unbelievable.”
Prosecutors and the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office say the case is still active, but a series of complications have kept it from moving forward as quickly as it should have.
To start with, Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Maj. Randy Sanches said the then 20-year-old driver of the Honda, Jose Matthew Duran, was so badly injured in the crash that he had to be sedated at the scene so a breathing tube could be inserted into his airway. A deputy’s report says Duran, who was “in and out of a coma,” was airlifted to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, which made it difficult for the agency to obtain a search warrant for a sample of Duran’s blood.
“That made it a hard case to present to the judges,” Sanches said. “Because he was given quite a few medications at the scene, so all blood samples were going to be reflecting what he was given. You can see what that would do to the results.”
In his report on the crash, Deputy Gabe Wadtwrote it was evident that the Honda driver was “driving in a reckless manner.” He also wrote that the driver’s “sobriety was in question at the time of the motor vehicle crash, and although an attempt for a search warrant to obtain a sample of [the driver’s] blood was made to determine whether or not [the driver] was under the influence. … It was not authorized by a judge, rendering the sobriety of [the driver] unknown.”
While the report said the driver “is being charged with homicide by vehicle,” the deputy noted that “an arrest was not sought due to the nature of [the driver’s] injuries.”
Another officer wrote: “I noted that among the debris both on the roadway and along the south bound shoulder … were syringes, it’s not known if any of the syringes were from the crash or were on the ground prior to the crash.”
The officer also noted that the electronic speedometer on the BMW motorcycle indicated a speed between 88 and 90 miles per hours, but said he didn’t know if that or the syringes were factors in the crash.
The case was forwarded to District Attorney Marco Serna’s office in Santa Fe for review without the law enforcement agency first filing charges in Magistrate Court, which is typically done in cases where authorities suspect a crime was committed.
As a former public defender, Camp was an acquaintance of prosecutors in the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office, a spokesman for Serna said in an email recently. “To avoid any appearance of impropriety,” the spokesman said, “DA Serna made the decision to ask another district to screen the case.”
The case was transfered to the 11th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Farmington, where Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O’Brien confirmed recently that the file arrived in February.
But, he said, because neither the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office nor District Attorney Serna had initiated any charges in the case, it was filed for review instead of prosecution, meaning that instead of simply entering an appearance in a pending matter, the case had to be reviewed first.
Because there were no court deadlines to meet, O’Brien said, the case wasn’t immediately assigned to anyone for review and didn’t get assigned until September, after the Santa Fe District Attorney’s Office — possibly spurred to action by an inquiry from John Day, a Santa Fe attorney retained by the family — inquired about its status.
“We’ve looked at it and we’ve done an initial evaluation,” O’Brien said, “but there is more investigation that needs to be done.”
Duran’s family did not respond to calls seeking comment for this story.