FARMINGTON — In 2013, 15 people were killed in 12 fatal car crashes on San Juan County roads.
Police said alcohol appeared to be a factor in seven of those deaths and five of the fatal crashes. One suspected drunken driving crash left three people dead.
Alcohol played a factor in a greater percentage of San Juan County fatal crashes in 2013 than it did in fatal crashes throughout the state in past years, based on comparing this year's traffic fatalities to 2011 data compiled by the Century Council, a policy group funded by distillers that advocates for responsible drinking.
San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said alcohol-related fatal crashes have decreased in the county in the last 10 years, but drunken driving remains a serious problem.
"If we lose one life to a DWI, that is one too many," Christesen said. "We have a lot of work to do."
U.S. Highway 550 south of Bloomfield had the most fatal crashes of any stretch of road in the county in 2013.
There were four fatal crashes on the highway last year. Police suspected alcohol was a factor in two of those crashes.
Overall in 2013, alcohol was suspected to be a factor in 46.7 percent of San Juan County traffic fatalities.
In 2011, alcohol played a factor in 29.7 percent of traffic fatalities in New Mexico, according to the Century Council. The Century Council relied on 2011 information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the FBI.
Christesen started an initiative in early 2012 where he lobbied the state and neighboring counties to increase enforcement on U.S. 550. That came after there were six fatal crashes south of Bloomfield in a six-week period at the end of 2011 and early 2012.
"I do think we've made a difference (on U.S. 550) but I still think it's a dangerous stretch of highway," Christesen said. "But, unfortunately, we can't focus on one highway and neglect other areas."
Christesen said the police blitz on U.S. 550 tapered off in 2013, but police continue to have a presence on the highway.
There were two fatal crashes in Farmington city limits in 2013, and one involved alcohol.
On April 4, LaDell Light, a 37-year-old suspected drunken driver, was killed in a collision while he was fleeing police at West Main Street and La Plata Highway.
The other fatal crash in Farmington was on Oct. 9. Ronnie Reynolds, 66, was killed in a single-vehicle crash when he was driving west on Piñon Hills Boulevard near La Plata Highway.
Georgette Allen, a Farmington police spokeswoman, said Farmington police have handled two fatal crashes in city limits in each of the last three years. In 2010, Farmington police responded to six fatal crashes, she said.
Speed is the most common factor in Farmington's fatal crashes, Allen said.
The FBI investigated three fatal crashes that occurred on the Navajo Nation in 2013. Two drivers were arrested on suspicion of drunken driving as a result of those investigations.
Colette Begay, 23, was killed in a single-vehicle crash on Navajo Route 36 near Northern Edge Navajo Casino. Begay was the driver, and the FBI didn't say if alcohol was suspected to be a factor.
On Dec. 23, Fanderick Chiquito was driving on Navajo Route 36 near mile marker 25 when he got in a head-on collision. Chiquito's sister was his passenger, and she died later that night at San Juan Regional Medical Center. The FBI didn't identify her.
Chiquito's blood-alcohol concentration was allegedly 0.29 -- more than three times the legal limit -- and he was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter, according to an FBI affidavit.
The deadliest crash this year was on U.S. Highway 491. Three people who the FBI didn't identify were killed in a head-on collision near Sheep Springs. The FBI arrested Tillman Begaye on suspicion of drunken driving in connection to the wreck, according to an FBI news release.
Larry Bell, 23, was the only person to die in a fatal crash that wasn't on a highway or Navajo Route 36. He died in a roll-over crash Aug. 7 on County Road 5068 outside of Bloomfield.
The sheriff's office said Anthony Schmitz-Bustos, 20, was the driver. He was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.
There was also one fatal crash north of Farmington when Daniel Murray, 30, was killed in a head-on collision on La Plata Highway south of the Colorado-New Mexico border on April 22. Alcohol wasn't suspected to be factor in the crash.Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.