Man pleads guilty to 2009 vehicular homicide

Steve Garrison

FARMINGTON — Calvin Finch has pleaded guilty to homicide by vehicle more than seven years after he was accused of killing a motorcyclist while driving while intoxicated.

Calvin Finch

Finch, 56, admitted at a plea hearing on Aug. 19 that he killed motorcyclist Harry Irvin on July 4, 2009, in a vehicle crash on U.S. 550 near the Colorado-New Mexico border. Finch further admitted he had four prior DWI convictions as part of the plea agreement.

Finch was sentenced Aug. 24 to 22 years in prison. He was provided credit for time served in jail awaiting adjudication and good behavior, which means he has about five and a half years left to serve in prison.

Finch had rejected a similar plea offer on Aug. 1 and was expected to appear at trial in October.

Finch had previously been convicted of vehicular homicide at trial in August 2010, but the New Mexico Court of Appeals overturned the conviction two years later after it determined attorneys erred in writing the jury's instructions.

Finch's attorney, Christian Hatfield, said today the Court of Appeals raised issues about the case that would have aided Finch at a new trial. He said there was also evidence that Irvin was intoxicated at the time of the crash. But Finch could face more prison time if he was found guilty at trial, according to Hatfield.

"It was a potentially defensible case, but also with significant risk, and that is what people have to consider when they go to trial," Hatfield said.

Deputies from the San Juan County Sheriff's Office were dispatched the afternoon of July 4, 2009, to the intersection of County Road 2105 and U.S. Highway 550 after receiving reports of a crash involving a pickup truck and a motorcycle, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

Deputies determined at the scene that Finch had made an improper turn across the northbound lane of U.S. 550, which caused the crash with Irvin's motorcycle, the affidavit states.

Finch told deputies he had consumed alcohol the night before the crash, but he passed a field sobriety test at the scene, according to the affidavit. Finch agreed to take a blood test, and he was driven by his girlfriend to the San Juan Regional Medical Center, the affidavit states. The blood test indicated Finch had a 0.13 blood-alcohol content, more than the state limit of 0.08, according to the affidavit.

Finch claimed at trial his girlfriend drove him to his residence before the hospital, where he took several swigs of 100-proof peppermint schnapps, which explained the blood results.

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