Man pleads guilty in 2017 fatal crash near Buffalo Thunder

Elias Arellano, shown in state District Court in April, agreed to a plea deal Wednesday in a fatal crash in October 2017 near Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino. The deal allows him to avoid a trial on the most serious charge he faced, child abuse resulting in great bodily harm, which carried a maximum sentence of 18 years in prison. Luis Sánchez Saturno/New Mexican file photo

Elias Arellano, accused of causing a fatal crash in October 2017 that killed an Albuquerque woman, pleaded guilty Wednesday in state District Court to charges of vehicular homicide and great bodily injury in a deal with prosecutors that allows him to avoid facing trial on a more serious charge of child abuse.

Arellano, 20, of Española was accused of driving recklessly on northbound U.S. 84/285 near Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino when he lost control of his convertible Chrysler Sebring and crossed into oncoming traffic. He collided head-on with a southbound Acura, killing 71-year-old Lucy Fresques and injuring her husband, Robert.

Arellano’s young relative, Greg Naranjo, who was riding with him in the convertible, also was injured.

The first-degree felony charge of child abuse resulting in great bodily harm, which carried a maximum sentence of 18 years, stemmed from injuries to Naranjo, Arellano’s uncle, who was 13 at the time of the crash.

Arellano’s defense attorney, Tom Clark, had vigorously fought the child abuse charge, arguing his client was not acting as a caregiver for Naranjo and therefore could not be charged with child abuse. Clark also sought to block testimony by Naranjo and medical providers who treated the boy’s injuries.

And Naranjo’s father — the Rev. Mike Naranjo of the Rock Christian Fellowship church in Española, known to his congregation as “Pastor Mike” — had tried to prevent his son’s medical records from being used as evidence in the case, citing privacy laws.

District Judge T. Glenn Ellington ruled last month that the boy’s testimony and medical records were admissible as evidence.

But the plea deal Ellington approved in court Wednesday renders the ruling moot.

Along with dismissal of the child abuse charge, prosecutors agreed to drop a felony count of great bodily injury and a misdemeanor count of reckless driving in exchange for Arellano’s guilty plea on the two charges tied to Lucy Fresques’ death and her husband’s injuries.

A sentencing hearing for Arellano will be held in late October or early November. Clark asked for a delay of 90 days so he could have time to obtain a psychiatrist’s evaluation of Arellano before the hearing.

According to the plea deal, Arellano could be sentenced to between three and eight years in prison, or he could face supervised probation. He has spent more than a year and three months in pretrial detention, which will count toward his sentence.

Deputy District Attorney Blake Nichols told the court Wednesday the deal was beneficial for both sides.

“From the defendant’s perspective,” Nichols said, “this agreement substantially limits his prison exposure, and from the perspective of the victims, it avoids having to put the Fresques family through a three-week trial to relive this thing.”

Clark said the Arellano and Naranjo family had no comment on Arellano’s guilty plea.

Robert Fresques and his sons, Jason and Brian, said they hope Arellano’s sentencing will come before the second anniversary of the fatal crash so they can begin moving forward.

“It’s like the Band-Aid is getting ripped off, over and over,” Jason Fresques said. “We just want healing to begin. We’ll never get our mom back.”

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