Farmington police see jump in serious injury vehicle crashes involving alcohol, speeding

A person was killed in a July 26 vehicle crash in Farmington

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
  • Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe told The Daily Times one of the agency’s major concerns is seeing an increase of vehicles speeding in the last year or so, as the COVID-19 pandemic started in Spring 2020.
  • There were 75 vehicle accidents with injuries in 2021 compared to 81 in 2019, a decrease of seven percent.
  • The increase in vehicles speeding around the city of Farmington has even prompted Chief Hebbe to conduct traffic stops.

FARMINGTON — The Farmington Police Department is urging drivers to stick to the speed limit and avoid driving while intoxicated due to increasing numbers of serious injuries due to vehicle crashes.

Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe told The Daily Times that one of the agency’s major concerns is seeing an increase of vehicles speeding after policy changes made when the COVID-19 pandemic started in Spring 2020.

Police are tracking a more than 40% jump in serious injury accidents on city roadways, and attribute that trend at least in part to traffic enforcement efforts that declined during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An Aug. 19 photo of a Chrysler minivan in the Farmington Police Department impound lot shows the damage it suffered after the driver allegedly rear-ended a Jeep SUV, causing it to roll and catch fire. The alleged DWI crash severely burned the two vehicle occupants of the Jeep.

Farmington police dusting off those ticket books

Efforts were made last year to reduce the number of traffic stops as an effort to keep officers safe and reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

“We are trying to get our troops back engaged making as many traffic stops as we can, focusing on certain areas of town like (20th Street),” Hebbe said. “But even (Pinon Hills Boulevard) we’re working hard, but obviously not having the success that we would hope for getting speeds to come back down.”

Farmington police data shows a decrease in calls for service involving vehicle accidents with injuries from June 1 to Aug. 16 this year when compared to the same time frame in 2019.

There were 75 vehicle accidents with injuries in 2021 compared to 81 in 2019, a decrease of 7%.

However, there was a 42 percent increase of vehicle accidents with injuries inside city limits as logged in the TraCS (traffic data collection system). That number jumped from 52 in the same time frame in 2019 to 74 incidents this year.

The TraCS system collects data from agencies including New Mexico State Police and the San Juan County Sheriff's Office.

The number of DWI accidents remains the same for both 2019 and this year at 26.

Farmington police Sgt. Jason Thornburg said while the number of crashes on paper looks down, Farmington police are responding to more serious crashes with more serious injuries that are being attributed to alcohol use and speeding.

“That is one of our big focuses, using our grant money allocated by the state to be enforcing those aggressive driving issues (like) speeding, seatbelt enforcement,” Thornburg said.

Those serious vehicle incidents included two people who were severely burned in a Aug. 15 DWI crash near the intersection of Pinon Hills Boulevard and La Plata Highway and a fatal July 26 vehicle rollover crash near the intersection of Murray Drive and East Broadway Avenue.

The increase in vehicles speeding around the City of Farmington has even prompted Chief Hebbe to conduct traffic stops.

Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe

“I'm getting guys blowing the doors off my car, I'm to the point that I'm making traffic stops, too,” Hebbe said. “It is something we are struggling with. But we are doing the best we can.”

The law enforcement agency has increased vehicle patrols in problem areas of the city, including along East 20th Street.

Officers are also reviewing “heat maps” generated by the crime statistics, trying to identify areas which require more attention.

School's in session, Farmington police seek public's help

Department officials urge drivers to slow down, especially as students return to school for the Fall 2021 semester.

“We're worried because we're actually entering a more dangerous time with the schools and what's going on in the school zones,” Hebbe said. “What the public can also know is we're going to be out there, and we're going to be issuing citations. And we're going to be trying to get this back under control.”

Drivers who see people speeding or possibly driving intoxicated are urged to call 911 and collect information to help identify the suspicious vehicle.

Sgt. Jonathan Jensen said it is important to acquire unique identifying information on the vehicle, such as possible vehicle damage or stickers, as some descriptions can make it difficult for police to locate the vehicle.

A description such as a “white Ford pickup truck” isn’t too helpful when Farmington is full of oilfield trucks matching the same description.

“How many white Ford pickup trucks am I going to come across? I can't stop every one of them,” Jensen said. “That's not even going to be enough of a description that I could do something.”

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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