Families of vehicular homicide victims accused DA's Office of mishandling case
Charges were dropped, then refiled against defendant on Dec. 10
- Bryce Vigil is accused of killing two men while driving while driving while intoxicated on Dec. 13, 2019, on U.S. Highway 550.
- The victims' families are upset at how the San Juan County District Attorney’s Office has handled the criminal case.
- Members of both families had a Dec. 10 meeting with the prosecutors along with their victim advocate after the case was initially dismissed and before the charges were refiled.
FARMINGTON — The families of two people killed in a fatal DWI crash believe the local District Attorney’s Office has mishandled the prosecution of the man they believe killed their loved ones after a prosecutor dismissed the case.
The families of Marcelino Marquez and Michael Tsosie described their frustrations in learning the case had been dismissed via a Daily Times article, their belief that the DA’s Office hasn’t been transparent with them over the prosecution of the defendant and their anger at a perceived lack of justice for the two people killed in a December 2019 vehicle crash.
That comes after the prosecutors in December refiled the dismissed charges against the defendant, 20-year-old Bryce Vigil of Kirtland, in state district court.
Vigil is accused of killing Sweetwater, Arizona, resident Tsosie and 20-year-old San Juan County resident Marquez while driving while intoxicated on Dec. 13, 2019, on U.S. Highway 550 northeast of Aztec.
He is accused of two second-degree felony counts of homicide by vehicle, along with petty misdemeanor counts of reckless driving and reckless driving.
The defendant is accused of driving a Lincoln Town Car that left the roadway and rolled, ejecting Tsosie and Marquez from the vehicle.
His first set of charges was dismissed by Assistant District Attorney Keith Mandelski on Nov. 9, an action his superiors at the San Juan County District Attorney’s Office said he did not have permission to take.
Families upset at dismissal of the case
Members of the Tsosie and Marquez families reached out to The Daily Times in early December to voice their complaints.
The families are upset at how the San Juan County District Attorney’s Office has handled the criminal case against the defendant.
Michael Hearne, one of Michael Tsosie’s sons, said his family learned of the case being dismissed from a Dec. 7 Daily Times article.
Hearne added it was extremely distressing to hear the news as it came shortly after the death of his mother Marcella Tsosie, who died from COVID-19.
“We had just got out of the viewing with her, and I was getting phone calls from people telling us about the charges (having) been dropped,” Hearne said.
San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O’Brien told The Daily Times that the DA’s Office notified one representative of each family via a text message on Nov. 8, one day after the charges were dismissed.
Gabriel Tsosie, Hearne’s brother and Michael Tsosie’s son, said he believes the case should not have been dismissed in the first place
"The fact that they did this, I think, is coming very close to misconduct," Gabriel Tsosie said.
O'Brien said additional investigation by the DA's Office could yield modified charges.
"More investigation needed to be done, and while dismissing and refiling the case was not the best way to accomplish that, there was no misconduct," he said.
It was O’Brien who previously told The Daily Times that Mandelski did not have permission to dismiss the case and that the dismissal was not appropriate.
Valerie Marquez, an aunt of Marcelino Marquez, told The Daily Times she was disappointed to learn the case had been dismissed by the DA’s Office.
“I was completely in shock,” she said. “We had really no idea that was even happening.”
Contentious meeting highlights transparency issues
Members of both families had a Dec. 10 meeting with prosecutors and their victim advocate after the case had been dismissed and before the charges were refiled.
Valerie Marquez said the meeting was a little tense as the families of the deceased tried to learn what was going on with the prosecution of Vigil. Gabriel Tsosie described the meeting “kind of a train wreck.”
Hearne said O’Brien told the families Mandelski did not have the authority to dismiss the case and acknowledged that as Mandelski’s supervisor, he didn’t properly supervise his subordinates.
"I have faith in our judicial system, in our prosecutor’s office,” Hearne said. “It’s absolutely disheartening that they have done such a neglect of duty."
Both families pointed to what they described as transparency issues within the DA’s Office. They said they believe more updates should have been communicated to them as the case made its way through the state court system.
Valerie Marquez said the family had to search on the state court website to find out when court hearings were scheduled for the case.
"We're the ones that had to reach out to the DA's Office to find any information out," she said. "They never reached out to us whatsoever. And nothing was really transparent whatsoever.”
O’Brien responded to the families’ concerns, explaining the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed progress on all cases in the state court system. He said updates were provided to the families during a July 8 meeting.
“For almost two years, the justice system in this state has been slowed significantly by COVID rules that have made cases proceed far more slowly,” O’Brien said. “This frustrates everyone involved, and often there is little to update victims with."
Both families said they feel the death of their relatives isn't receiving any justice. Valerie Marquez believes the case might not be getting the attention it deserves because the victims were Navajo and Mexican.
"I want justice for my father and for Marcelino Marquez. But I also want justice for everybody else who's obviously being affected by this," Gabriel Tsosie said.
Vigil’s charges were refiled a month later
The DA’s Office did refile the charges against Vigil on Dec. 10 in state district court, according to court documents. A summons has been issued to be served to Vigil, but it was listed as unserved on Dec. 30, according to court records.
Court records list Arlon Stoker as Vigil’s attorney. Stoker told The Daily Times he’ll be retained once the summons is served to Vigil.
A court hearing for Vigil’s arraignment is set for the morning of Jan. 3 in Aztec District Court. If Vigil isn’t served by the time of the hearing, it could be rescheduled for a future date.
Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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