El Prado man acquitted in Gorge Bridge hit-and-run case

Jury uncertain about who was behind the wheel

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 10/30/19

Law enforcement officers who investigated a hit-and-run at the Río Grande Gorge Bridge in 2017 believed they had the right man, but a jury that convened for trial this week was ultimately uncertain about who was actually behind the wheel.

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El Prado man acquitted in Gorge Bridge hit-and-run case

Jury uncertain about who was behind the wheel

Posted

Updated Nov. 4 at 11:30 a.m.

Law enforcement officers who investigated a hit-and-run at the Río Grande Gorge Bridge in 2017 believed they had the right man, but a jury that convened for trial this week was ultimately uncertain about who was actually behind the wheel.

Juan Rodelas-Calzadillas of El Prado was acquitted of all eight counts at a trial in Taos Wednesday (Oct. 30) in a case that alleged he hit 74-year-old Charles Covington at the west end of the Gorge Bridge on Aug. 5, 2017 with a gray Chevy Cavalier, amputating the elderly man's leg.

The vehicle fled and law enforcement later found it parked at an El Prado residence on Santistevan Road, where they arrested Rodelas-Calzadillas for the hit-and-run. The El Prado man's drivers license was also found inside the vehicle, according to a statement of probable cause filed with the case.

John Lovelace, a prosecutor with the 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office, said there was no doubt the vehicle that was parked in the defendant's driveway was the one involved in the nearly fatal crash.

At trial, Lovelace described how a DNA test of blood and flesh found on the vehicle matched a sample from the 74-year-old, but without a reliable witness, he said it was difficult to prove definitively that Rodelas-Calzadillas was driving the vehicle at the time of the crash. 

"We've received several conflicting reports from witnesses on the scene," said Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe the day of the collision.

Some of the witnesses said they saw a male driver, while others said the driver might have been female.

Following the acquittal, Sheriff Hogrefe posted a lengthy comment to a post on the Taos News Facebook page, defending his investigation. He was dismayed that the jury determined that there wasn't sufficient evidence to convict Rodelas-Calzadillas.

"I am in awe and extremely [disappointed] that the burden of proof seemed to this jury to be one of absolutely no doubt rather than the standard 'beyond a reasonable doubt,' " Hogrefe wrote.

Aleksandar Kostich, the lead public defender in Taos, fired back, calling the sheriff's comments "reprehensible, inappropriate and quite frankly un-American."

"You are the chief law enforcement officer of the county, and have disrespected and undermined the men and women of that jury, and our system of justic," Kostich went on.

Court records show that Rodelas-Calzadillas has a history of cases for traffic violations in Taos County, with at least a dozen cases filed against him since 2010.

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