Suspect arraigned, vehicle recovered in Gorge Bridge hit-and-run

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Juan Rodelas, a 22-year-old Ranchos de Taos man, was arraigned Wednesday morning (Aug. 9) in Taos County Magistrate Court on charges connected to a grisly hit-and-run Saturday (Aug. 5) near the Río Grande Gorge Bridge that left an elderly man with life-threatening injuries.

Rodelas stands accused of driving a silver Chevy Cavalier that struck Charles Covington, 74, as he walked with family members along the south shoulder of U.S. 64 on the west end of the bridge just after noon on Saturday.

According to a criminal complaint filed this week, Rodelas came from the west at a high rate of speed and clipped Covington, amputating his right leg and breaking the other. Covington fell to the ground and lay on the fog lane losing blood.

Numerous tourists and other pedestrians witnessed the incident and reported to Taos Central Dispatch that they had seen a silver Chevy Cavalier fleeing eastbound, weaving in and out of traffic across the span of the bridge.

Among the bystanders that gathered around Covington was off-duty Nederland Colo. Police Department Marshall Paul Carrill and some off-duty firefighters from Houston, Tex., who quickly took actions that would ultimately save the man's life.

Carill removed Covington's belt and tightened it down above the wound with a round stick. He wrote the time of the turnicate on the patients leg: "1227 hours." They found two flat sticks and splinted Covington's left leg and stayed with him and his wife as Taos County Sheriff's deputies and emergency services personnel headed for the scene.

Medics arrived around 12:38 p.m. and met with the off-duty emergency services members, according to Joaquin Gonzalez, director of Taos County Emergency Services. The medics placed a second tourniquet on the Covington's leg and loaded him into an ambulance, where he received fluids intravenously. A helicopter with Care Flight 16 was dispatched to fly the patient to a trauma center.

Deputies arrived minutes later and shut down east and westbound traffic on the bridge, backing up traffic for at least 1/4 mile in either direction. The helicopter touched down on the roadway just after 2 p.m. and flew Covington to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where he underwent emergency surgery.

As of 1 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 6), Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said that the patient was "in serious but stable condition ..."

Gonzalez paid special recognition to Carrill and the off-duty firefighters. "If it wasn't for those individuals the patient could have died due to severe blood loss," Gonzalez said. "These are calls that we train for during our careers. Establishing and placing a tourniquet for limbs that have been severely injured or amputated is a life saving procedure. My crew did an outstanding job getting a helicopter and flying him to a level one trauma center."

Later in the afternoon, Deputy Marvin Armijo received a tip that a vehicle fitting the suspected vehicle description had been located on Santistevan Road off U.S. 64 east of the bridge. Armijo arrived at the residence and spoke with one of Rodelas' family members, who said that he did not know Rodelas' wherabouts. Before he leaving the residence, Armjio surveyed the surrounding property, but could not locate the suspect vehicle.

On Sunday (Aug. 6), deputies returned to the residence and sighted the suspected vehicle on the property. They again spoke with the family member, who stated that Rodelas had returned to the residence.

They noted that the front bumper was missing, along with the right-front headlamp, the right mirror and the license plate. They also allegedly saw what appeared to be "blood ... flesh and skin" on the right side of the vehicle.

Deputies made contact with Rodelas, who allegedly stated that the vehicle had been involved in a "crash on the back roads with some trash" south of the residence, but denied to show deputies where the crash occurred or the missing vehicle parts. Rodelas was placed under arrest without incident and booked in the Taos County Adult Detention Center.

This week, the defendant was arraigned on charges, including knowingly leaving the scene of an accident resulting in great bodily harm or death, a third-degree felony; tampering with evidence, a fourth-degree felony; failure to give information or render aid during an accident, a misdemeanor; and failure to give immediate notice of accidents, a petty misdemeanor; in addition to several misdemeanor traffic charges.

Rodelas was placed on a no-bond hold, an order that determines that he will remain incarcerated without the opportunity to post bond until further notice.

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Elizabeth Harvey

Thank you to all of the first responders and to the people who prayed. My daughter and I were in the car ahead of the accident in which Rodelas drove between our car and Mr. Covington. We were very shaken and so incredibly worried for the victim. We are thankful that he survived and realize the long road he has to health.

Can't believe Rodelas chose to lie about his whereabouts. Sad. Very sad.

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