The 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office in Taos has dimissed a case filed against a Bakersfield, California man who was charged in a car crash that killed two people and caused a third a …
The 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office in Taos has dismissed a case filed against a Bakersfield, California man charged in a 2017 car crash that killed two people and left a third with a traumatic brain injury.
Court records did not list a reason for why charges were dismissed Dec. 13 against Juan Espinoza, 22, who was charged with four counts of vehicular homicide related to the crash. The order was made without prejudice, which means that the charges can be refiled in the future.
The district attorney's office did not respond to a message left late Monday afternoon (Dec. 17) asking for comment regarding the decision to dismiss the case.
Progress in the case against Espinoza was mired in complications from its outset.
Deputies who investigated the crash on State Road 68 early the morning of Sept. 30, 2017 learned Espinoza had been out drinking with fellow crew members working on the New Mexico Gas pipeline along the Río Grande in the hours before he collided with another vehicle while driving a stolen SUV.
Killed in the crash were Hannah Metzger, 25, a seasonal resident of Taos from Delray Beach, Florida, and Cedrick Kober, 33, from Little River, South Carolina. Metzger, who was driving the vehicle when it was hit near mile marker 37, was pronounced dead at the scene. Kober died shortly after he was transported to Holy Cross Hospital in Taos.
A third passenger, Cody Woolard, then 26, suffered severe injuries, including a brain injury that left him partially paralyzed. Woolard spent 11 months in and out of hospitals before returning to his home in Illinois this fall, where his parents serve as his caretakers.
Ron Olsen, deputy district attorney, said he had been keeping in touch with the family regarding the case, but noted that several factors had complicated its prosecution.
The first complication came during the crash investigation when deputies could not get a proper reading from Espinoza using a breathalyzer. They then learned that no approved blood-testing kits were available as an alternative; the New Mexico Department of Health later acknowledged a statewide shortage around the time of the crash.
Later, during a preliminary hearing in Taos Magistrate Court, the two pipeline workers who had been drinking with Espinoza in Taos before the crash told the court that Espinoza had been shot at and chased by another driver prior to the crash. Their testimony suggested that the defendant had been under duress when the crash occurred, as opposed to acting in a manner that was criminally negligent or murderous as the charges implied.
Judge Ernest Ortega, who presided over the hearing, still found sufficient probable cause to retain the eight counts filed against Espinoza and sent the case up to district court, where it was dismissed.
This is a developing story. Check back here for updates.
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