James Cameron still remembers the sound his wife made when they were struck by a car while walking in the crosswalk at the intersection of Paseo de Peralta and Griffin Street on their way downtown on a balmy evening two years ago.
It was “a shouted ‘hey?!’ a heart-rending mixture of horror, surprise, shock, anger indignity,” he wrote in a victim impact statement for the District Attorney’s Office. “Every emotional component of her last cry is as vivid to me at this moment as it was then.”
Cameron said the car hit him first, and he came to with his head on his wife’s thigh, reassuring her that he would be OK until he realized she was not responding.
“I looked down at Alice’s face and was struck by immense unimaginable horror, guilt and grief that has never left my soul,” Cameron wrote. “Her eyes were shaded, pupils un-synchronized, at odd angles, obviously grievously injured if not practically dead. Her head was moving as if trying to turn to follow my sobbing voice, her mouth covered in foam.”
Cameron was not seriously injured in the incident, but his wife, Alice Cameron, 49, was flown to University of New Mexico Hospital, where she died early the next morning from a brain bleed, her husband said.
Cameron wrote about the crash in preparation for what he expected would be the criminal prosecution of Janet Pacheco-Morton, the motorist who struck the couple on the evening of June 30, 2017, as they strolled from their home on Rosario Hill downtown for dinner.
A police report said Pacheco-Morton, who had been northbound on Griffin when she made a left turn onto westbound Paseo de Peralta at a green light, initially told police that the setting sun had obstructed her view of the pedestrians, but when confronted with witness statements that she had been on her cellphone, she acknowledged she could have been.
“Ms. Pacheco-Morton stated that she did not remember and stated it was possible that she did have her hands busy with the cell phone when the incident occurred,” a Santa Fe officer wrote in his report. “Ms. Pacheco-Morton also stated that if there were witnesses that she was probably on her cell phone.”
Subsequent court documents say the Santa Cruz woman later told police she was speaking with her husband on her cellphone at the time without using a hands-free device.
No charges have been filed in connection with the fatal crash, and Cameron said Tuesday that a prosecutor told him last week Pacheco-Morton won’t be charged in his wife’s death.
Cameron said Assistant District Attorney Julie Gallardo — who inherited the case after the previous attorney assigned to it left the office — told him the state couldn’t charge Pacheco-Morton with vehicular homicide because they couldn’t prove she had been driving recklessly or while impaired.
Cameron said Gallardo also said she couldn’t charge Pacheco-Morton with two lesser crimes the motorist might have have faced because the statue of limitations on those possible charges expired in June 2018. Cameron said he could not remember what those other charges were.
District Attorney Marco Serna referred questions about the case to his spokesman, James Hallinan, who insisted Tuesday that the case is still open. Hallinan said in an email:
“Despite this horrible tragedy, there is a gaping hole in our statutes as New Mexico law and the facts do not meet the elements of reckless driving, which requires a willful and wanton disregard of the safety of others. However, this matter remains open with DA’s Office and as such it would be inappropriate to comment any further at this time.”
Cameron said Gallardo had apologized when she talked to him about the case and “implied there was a major, major let down in their office.
“She said, ‘I don’t know what happened before I got here so I can’t speak to that … but this system let you down, and I just got ahold of the this case and it was already too late,’ ” Cameron said during an interview recorded Tuesday at the home he once shared with his wife of more than 25 years.
“And she said, ‘Very definitely, this whole system let you down.’ ”
“My wife was killed, and it’s like it never happened,” said Cameron, who worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory at the time of the accident but has since retired.
Hallinan declined to elaborate on whether the District Attorney’s Office might still charge Pacheco-Morton.
“As stated,” he wrote in an email, “this case remains open and it would be inappropriate to comment further, however, I can confirm that the victim was not told what you say he was by this office regarding ‘the system.’ We continue to seek justice for him and can only hope that his words are not being manipulated or misrepresented by anyone.”
The city of Santa Fe outlawed talking on a cellphone while driving without a hands-free device in 2002. The penalty for a violation is $100.
Pacheco-Morton did not respond to a call seeking comment.
Santa Fe Police Department officials also did not return calls seeking comment.
Cameron said he plans to sue Pacheco-Morton, who is a certified public accountant, like his wife was.
“It’s a matter of principle,” he said.