Top NM official 'shocked' after running over body

AP News
Posted: Nov 18, 2011 8:24 PM
Top NM official 'shocked' after running over body

A high-ranking New Mexico official and several other motorists unknowingly drove over the body of a man who had been struck moments earlier on a pitch-black highway, shocking drivers who didn't find out until later that they had run over a person.

Police said Friday they're unsure of how many vehicles struck the 46-year-old man's body on the four-lane highway near Santa Fe, but one of them was driven by New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran.

Because the pedestrian was in a lane of traffic, no drivers are facing charges, Santa Fe police Capt. Aric Wheeler said.

In a statement, Duran expressed her "thoughts and prayers" to the family of the victim, whose identity has not been released.

Duran said she was on her way home at about 7:30 p.m. when she ran over what "appeared to be an animal that had been struck" on the road.

"I am sure other drivers have been just as shocked and saddened as I have been to learn what had actually taken place in this tragedy," Duran said in a statement Friday.

Wheeler said the man was killed while walking along an unlit section of state Route 599 northwest of Santa Fe. He was in the center of one lane of the divided highway when he was struck by a car and apparently killed. Vehicles behind that car, including Duran's, then ran over the body on the road, where the speed limit is 55 mph.

Several cars, including Duran's, were being examined by police as part of their investigation. Police closed the stretch of road overnight so they could complete their examination of the accident scene in the daylight. The man's body was torn apart after being struck numerous times, police said.

Wheeler said it's uncertain how many cars that struck the body didn't stop because the drivers were unaware they had hit a man. Police are asking motorists to contact authorities if they were driving on the road between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.

The driver of the car that initially struck the pedestrian did stop after the accident, Wheeler said.

Ken Ortiz, the secretary of state's chief of staff, said Duran stopped a short distance down the road to ensure her car was running properly. She continued home after she checked the car's instrument panel to look for any problems such as overheating and then saw other cars return to the road after they had pulled over in front of her.

As Duran was driving to her home in southwestern Santa Fe, another car _ not a police car _ followed her for a while and flashed its headlights, but Duran decided it was safer to go home rather than pull over, Ortiz said.

After arriving at home, police were called and Duran learned what had happened.

Duran, a former state senator from Tularosa in southern New Mexico, became secretary of state in January and is the first Republican elected to the position since 1928.

Wheeler said toxicological tests will be performed to check whether the pedestrian had been using alcohol or drugs. He said there was no indication of impairment by any of the drivers police talked with, including Duran.

Wheeler said Duran was cooperative with police but emotionally "shaken up" after learning a man had been hit.

New Mexico has among the nation's highest rates of pedestrian deaths. Only six states and the District of Columbia exceeded New Mexico in 2009 in the number of pedestrians killed per 100,000 people, according to the latest figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


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