Questa Police Chief Nicholas Lamendola was traveling through the early morning twilight Sunday (July 16) headed southbound along State Road 522 as he transported a prisoner to the Taos County Adult Detention Center.
Unbeknownst to Lamendola, an elk was about to quietly trot into the darkness of the roadway some miles south.
Lamendola slammed into the animal around 5:15 a.m. near mile marker 11, apparently unable to avoid the collision. The impact with the elk - an animal that can weigh anywhere from 300 to 900 pounds - caused extensive damage to the front and left-hand driver's side of the two and a half ton truck, said Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe.
Sheriff's deputies and medical units responded to the scene, transporting the chief and his prisoner to Holy Cross Hospital for medical assessments. Lamendola and the prisoner, who had been seated in the rear of the vehicle when the crash occurred, only suffered minor injuries. Both were cleared for release later that morning.
Unlucky circumstances aside, this is not the first time Lamendola has run into trouble on the road.
On Christmas Eve (Dec. 24) 2011, Lamendola, then a deputy with the Taos County Sheriff's Office, was traveling northbound on Paseo del Pueblo Norte responding to a call at the Monte Carlo Lounge in Questa, when he crashed into Orlando's Restaurant in El Prado.
During the incident, Lamendola had activated his emergency lights and siren as he sped north. Drivers pulled off onto the shoulder to clear his path, but a female driver in the northbound lane veered back into the roadway. Lamendola swerved to avoid a collision and rolled his vehicle into the patio area of the local restaurant.
No one was injured, however, beer cans were discovered in Lamendola's vehicle following the accident. The then-deputy was placed on a three-day administrative leave as an investigation opened up in the sheriff's office. While Lamendola was cleared of the precipitating allegations that he had been drinking that evening, New Mexico State Police cited him for reckless driving, clocking his speed at 88 miles per hour while en route to the call.
Four years later, on July 24, 2015, Lamendola was dismissed from the sheriff's office under circumstances that were never made public, but which the deputy said pertained to "internal policy."
Lamendola was hired on as chief of the Questa Police Department less than one month after the dismissal, where he continues to serve.
An official incident report on this week's accident has not yet been released by the sheriff's office.