Man rejects plea in vehicular homicide case

Steve Garrison

FARMINGTON — A 55-year-old man accused of causing a fatal crash while intoxicated in 2009 today rejected a plea bargain that would have resolved the long-running case.

Calvin Finch, who allegedly killed motorcyclist Harry Irvin during a crash on U.S. Highway 550 on July 4, 2009, rejected a plea bargain during a brief court appearance this afternoon.

His decision seemed to come as a surprise to his attorney, Christian Hatfield.

"I guess he wants to go to trial," Hatfield said in a brief remark after the hearing. "So we'll go to trial."

A two-day trial has been scheduled to begin Oct. 17.

The terms of the plea agreement were not disclosed during the hearing, but San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brent Capshaw said afterward, under the agreement, Finch would have pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide while driving intoxicated and been sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Sixteen years and six months of that 22 year sentence would have been suspended under the agreement, according to Capshaw.

Finch was previously convicted at trial in August 2010 of vehicular homicide in Irvin's death, but that conviction was overturned on Oct. 30, 2012, by the New Mexico Court of Appeals after a three-judge panel ruled that the attorneys erred in writing the jury's instructions.

The fatal crash occurred the afternoon of July 4, 2009, at the intersection of County Road 2105 and U.S. Highway 550 north of Aztec, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. Finch passed a field sobriety test at the scene, but the 55-year-old man had five prior drunken driving convictions and no valid license, court records state.

Finch also admitted to drinking at 3 a.m. that day, the affidavit states.

So deputies asked Finch to perform a blood test, which he agreed to do, the affidavit states.

He was driven by his girlfriend to San Juan Regional Medical Center and had his blood drawn, according to the affidavit.

The blood test indicated he had a 0.13 blood-alcohol content, above the state limit of 0.08, but Finch testified at trial he was sober at the crash scene, according to court records.

He told the jury he went to his girlfriend's house after the crash and had several swigs of 100-proof Peppermint Schnapps, which tainted the blood results, court records state.

He admitted his actions were "stupid," but he said he was panicked and did not consider the consequences of the action, according to court records.

Finch has been incarcerated since 2009.

An attorney for Finch filed motions in December challenging the validity of key pieces of evidence in the case.

Judge Karen Townsend denied several of those motions in April, according to court records.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644. 

Calvin Finch