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FARMINGTON — A 33-year-old Shiprock man was sentenced Friday to 30 years in federal prison for causing a triple-fatal vehicle crash while drinking and driving, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Tillman Naskia Begaye was arrested in July 2013 and charged with three counts of second-degree murder in connection to the fatal crash, which occurred on July 14, 2013, at U.S. Highway 491 in Newcomb.

According to the criminal complaint, witnesses told Shiprock police officers that Begaye was driving a pick-up truck in the wrong lane of traffic when he struck a van occupied by two women and one man, who are not identified in the complaint.

Paramedics found the passengers of the van dead at the scene, and Begaye was airlifted to San Juan Regional Medical Center, the complaint states. He denied being the operator of his vehicle at the time of the crash, but no other people were found near the scene.

Tillman's blood was drawn for analysis at the hospital and showed he had a 0.21 blood-alcohol content level shortly after the crash, the complaint states.

However, a toxicologist later testified she believed his blood-alcohol content was likely 0.16 or 0.18 at the time of the crash, according to court records.

A federal jury found Begaye guilty on all three counts of murder after a five-day trial concluded on May 16, according to the press release.

The family of the victims favored a life sentence for Begay, according to a sentencing memorandum filed in September by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Begaye was previously convicted of aggravated drunken driving in Farmington Municipal Court, according to the sentencing memorandum.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and stgarrison@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.

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