What started out as a New Mexico State Police pursuit of a stolen pickup Wednesday morning resulted in a multicar crash on Interstate 25, southeast of Santa Fe, that caused a Cañoncito man trying to avoid the pileup to flip his Honda Pilot.
Neither Patrick Hall nor his two teenage sons riding in the SUV were seriously injured in the wreck.
But the incident caused a lengthy traffic jam along I-25 between Santa Fe and Eldorado.
Hall said a Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputy at the scene told him officers had tried to use spike strips, devices that punctures tires, to stop the driver of the stolen truck. However, a spokesman for Sheriff Adan Mendoza denied that spike strips — also known as “stop sticks” — were used. A deputy did have the devices at the scene, the spokesman said, but they were never used.
In an interview Wednesday, Hall, who works with the Protective Services Division of the state Children, Youth and Families Department, said he was driving his sons to school from their home in Cañoncito when he suddenly encountered the crash around 7:45 a.m., a time when highway traffic is heavy from people traveling to work and school.
About a quarter-mile from the Old Pecos Trail exit off I-25, he said, drivers in front of him had started to slow down.
“I looked up to see what appeared to be a policeman running into the highway traffic from the dirt median,” Hall said. “At this second, all the traffic in front of us went from 75 mph to locked-up screeching.
“There were six or seven cars piled up in front of us,” he added.
Hall said he started to brake but realized he wouldn’t be able to miss the vehicle in front of him, so he veered toward the road’s shoulder. In his rearview mirror, he saw a gray SUV approaching fast and it struck him from behind.
His Honda went into a 180-degree spin and flipped onto its side.
“My boys, who were on the passenger side, were hanging, suspended by their seat belts,” Hall said. “I asked if they were good, and they said yes. They unhooked themselves and fell on me. I got through the glass and dirt and was able to pull them both from the car.”
Other motorists who had stopped and were on the side of the road helped Hall get his sons out of the car, he said.
“I actually passed out as I got out of the car,” Hall said.
The boys’ mother came to pick them up and give them a ride to school. Hall got a ride in an ambulance to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, where he was treated and released.
When he regained consciousness at the scene, a deputy approached Hall and said officers had been unable to find the SUV that had hit him. A deputy also told him state police had been chasing a stolen vehicle and had used a spike strip, Hall said.
Authorities said they suspect the stolen vehicle was the one that had hit Hall’s SUV and caused the wreck.
However, a state police spokesman said the stolen vehicle, which was found later Wednesday, was neither gray nor an SUV. It was a white Ford dually pickup.
An emergency medical technician who overheard the deputy speaking about the spike strip became angry, saying, “You guys deployed spike strips on an interstate during rush hour traffic with zero traffic control?” according to Hall.
Others at the scene were furious with police, he said. One woman on the side of the road was screaming at officers: “You’re willing to sacrifice our lives to catch one person?”
A spokesman for the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office told The New Mexican a deputy was at the scene to assist state police with the chase. The deputy had spike strips — what spokesman Juan Ríos called “stop sticks” — set up on the side of the road to throw in front of the stolen truck. But, Ríos said, “He never deployed the stop sticks.”
Ríos couldn’t say what caused the multivehicle pileup that Hall had swerved to avoid.
Deputies had not yet completed an incident report as of late Wednesday afternoon, he said.
Lt. Mark Soriano, a state police spokesman, said patrol officers in Santa Fe received an alert from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office about a pickup stolen in Albuquerque. A state police officer found the truck traveling north on I-25 about four miles north of the Old Pecos Trail exit.
“The officer attempted to stop the vehicle, which the vehicle ignored the officers’ emergency equipment, and a pursuit was initiated,” Soriano said.
“The pursuit was terminated by officers,” he added. “Officers located the vehicle on Stacy Lane [off Old Las Vegas Highway] via a GPS tracking device.”
The driver of the stolen pickup has not been found, he said.