Joe Gallegos
Joe Gallegos (Courtesy of San Juan County Adult Detention Center)

FARMINGTON — The man accidentally released from jail turned himself in Thursday afternoon.

Joe Gallegos, 44, walked into the San Juan County Adult Detention Center at 2:30 p.m., 10 days after the jail told him to leave.

"He just walked in and said, 'I'm here to turn myself in,'" said Tom Havel, the administrator of the detention center. "Now we can get back to the business of letting him get his day in court."

The jail accidentally released Gallegos on July 15, three days after a heroin possession charge against him was dropped, Havel said. But Gallegos is still charged with vehicular homicide, possession of narcotics with intent to distribute and other charges related to the death of Delandra Pioche, 32. His trial is set for September.

"He's a man of integrity," said Cosme Ripol, Gallegos' attorney. "He understands that law enforcement wants to put him away for 20 years of his life. But he wants to face the charges and take responsibility for this accident."

Prosecutors said Gallegos wouldn't have been charged with escaping from jail or additional crimes if he had not turned himself in.

"It's not (Gallegos') fault," said Chief Deputy San Juan County District Attorney Dustin O'Brien of the accidental release. "If the jail lets you out there's no obligation for you to say, 'I'm not sure about that.'"

Havel said a new computer system contributed to the jail's error. The system signaled jail staff that one charge against Gallegos was dismissed, but the system didn't highlight that he still faced other charges and should have been held in the detention center. Havel said the jail has taken steps to ensure a similar mistake doesn't happen again.

Gallegos was in jail after his arrest on Oct. 24. Farmington police said he was high on narcotics and in possession of felony amounts of cocaine when he ran over Pioche near the intersection of Main Street and Court Avenue.

Pioche died at the scene. Gallegos ran to a nearby mobile home, where he was arrested.

Pioche's family said she was a young woman with a bright future.

"We were pretty upset, and we were shocked (when she was killed)," said Alfreida Pioche, Delandra Pioche's aunt. "She had so many plans and goals and for her to go out like that, it took a toll."

Gallegos' release took an additional toll on Pioche's family, who learned about the jail's error from an article in The Daily Times.

"To let somebody out of jail and then to come out and say it was an accident ... I read that and it made me very upset," said Alfreida Pioche. "I just want justice to be served."

Gallegos has a previous conviction for vehicular homicide that stemmed from a drunken driving crash that left two people dead.

Ripol said that despite his client's troubled past, Gallegos is a Christian who "strives to be a part of this world."

"He has more courage than I would have. Most people would have stayed out and partied. He's taken responsibility," Ripol said. "The public has a perception that people who are charged with crimes are always horrible people. The truth of the matter is that most of them are more complex than that and have more good in them than the public gives them credit for."

Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.