There's a long list of privileges afforded to elected officials and the people they put in positions of power, but an exemption from coverage in the Taos News, especially when they've been charged with a serious crime, isn't one of them.
That's why, of the five DWI arrests the Taos County Sheriff's Office logged the weekend of July 30, only one of the accused made the pages of this week's newspaper: Dominic Martinez, a longtime public servant and the current county deputy manager of operations.
Deputy Shana McTague wrote in a statement of probable cause that Martinez admitted he was "a little drunk" when she found him in an overturned vehicle he crashed into a fence on Lower Las Colonias Road early Sunday morning (Aug. 1). Martinez blew a 0.19 and 0.18, well over twice the legal limit to be operating a vehicle. The night before, he said he had attended his daughter's wedding at Taos Country Club. On his way home, he stopped by the Alley Cantina for another drink before getting back in his car. He said an oncoming vehicle had veered toward him on the road, causing him to swerve, but McTague noted no evidence of a near-miss in her report. Martinez was booked into jail shortly after the incident. McTague charged Martinez, 52, with aggravated DWI, his first drunk driving charge.
When the Taos News shared news of Martinez's arrest on social media later that day, some people in our community said it was wrong to put Martinez in the spotlight. After all, he has worked for Taos County admirably for many years and continues to do so, they argued. On that point, they're not wrong. He's been a deputy, an undercover narcotics agent, director of a program at a local nonprofit, director of the county's emergency management department, a middle school basketball coach, a candidate for magistrate judge and now holds a new role near the top of the county's administration.
But those are also the reasons why his arrest can't be ignored.
In a democracy, the people we entrust with running our most important public institutions are meant to represent the best of us. We expect them to uphold our highest standards. When they fall short, the public has a right to know, and it is one of the most important functions of a newspaper to let them know.
Doing so can also impart valuable lessons.
Surely this one resonates with those of us who have climbed into our vehicles after a round of drinks, only to wonder whether putting the key in the ignition was truly the right thing to do. For others, who have lost loved ones to drunk driving, it must be a painful reminder of how dangerous making the wrong choice can be.
Some 28 people in the United States die in drunk-driving related crashes every day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That's about one person every hour. New Mexico ranked fourth in the nation for fatal drunk driving deaths in 2018, and fifth in 2019, which saw 107 deaths.
We should all be thankful that a member of our community made it home in relative safety this weekend, and hope, perhaps, that his experience will make other people - fellow public official or not - think twice before making the same mistake.