Taos man gets 6 years behind bars for role in crash

A judge sentenced a Taos man Nov. 9 to six years in prison for causing a 2014 crash in Rio Arriba County that killed his girlfriend and injured another woman while he was driving under the influence of prescription pills and marijuana.

Santiago Martinez, 27, was driving a Mercedes convertible owned by his 24-year-old girlfriend, Lindsay Hinds, on the wrong side of U.S. 84 about a mile outside of Chama when he crashed head-on into a pickup driven by Lylon E. Vigil of Dulce.

Hinds died at the scene, and Vigil and Martinez both suffered serious injuries.

Police found syringes filled with marijuana extract in Martinez's vehicle, and prosecutors said during his trial in June that the driver had a "cocktail" of prescription medications and marijuana in his system. But public defender Sydney West said the amount of marijuana in Martinez's system was below legal thresholds for impairment in states where marijuana is legal and that the levels of prescription drugs in his system were "therapeutic."

A jury convicted Martinez of homicide by vehicle while under the influence of liquor or drugs, great bodily harm by vehicle while driving under the influence, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana.

Deputy District Attorney Erik Scramlin asked District Judge Jennifer Attrep to give Martinez the maximum sentence, 10 years and 14 days in prison, and not to suspend any time.

Attrep sentenced Martinez to 10 years and 14 days as Scramlin had requested, but suspended four years and 14 days, leaving a total of six years in prison. Martinez will be credited for a year he spent in jail while his case was pending, and he will be eligible to earn day-for-day "good time" credit in prison -- meaning he could be free in about three years if he behaves well behind bars.

Scramlin said Martinez had "taken absolutely no responsibility" for the crash and "has blamed everyone but himself."

West asked the judge to have mercy on Martinez, saying he was not a malicious person.

"I know Santiago Martinez, and he had no evil intention," West said. "It wasn't one of those situations. Everybody knows if you've had a 12-pack of beer, you don't drive. This is not the same. We have this opioid crisis that we can't solve, and here are some folks that were tangled up in it with some very serious consequences."

West and a forensic social worker from the Public Defender's Office told Attrep that given the proper treatment, Martinez, a father of two young boys, could be a good candidate for rehabilitation and potentially become someone who speaks to students and others about the dangers of combining drug use and driving.

"Obviously the court has a very large hammer to place over his head," West said. "But I don't think now is the time to put that hammer down. I think we should see if there is some way we can make the best out of a bad situation."

Hinds' mother, Elaine Hinds, told the court her daughter was a gymnast and surfer who had spent most of her life in Hawaii but was visiting her father in Taos the summer she died.

"Mostly I feel sad when I wake up in the morning," Elaine Hinds said as Martinez's family members wept on the opposite side of the courtroom. "I'm not mad at Santiago. I'm just missing my daughter. I don't know what the answer is with this situation with driving under the influence. It's a deadly weapon at that point -- a car is no longer a car."

Martinez wiped away tears as Hinds' mother spoke. But his voice was monotone when he addressed the court before being sentenced. He apologized to the Hinds family, his own family and the community.

"I'm very sorry it had to be like this," he said.

Contact Phaedra Haywood at 505-986-3068 or phaywood@sfnewmexica­n.com. Follow her on Twitter @phaedraann.