Governor announces new tactics to combat DWIs

Steve Garrison
New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas stands next to New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez on Thursday during a press conference along U.S. Highway 64 between Farmington and Bloomfield.

SAN JUAN COUNTY — Gov. Susana Martinez announced several executive actions she has taken this week to combat drunken driving during a press conference here on Thursday.

Martinez made the announcement while standing with local and state law enforcement officers alongside a stretch of U.S. Highway 64 between Farmington and Bloomfield, a corridor she said was one of the deadliest in the state in terms of alcohol-related crashes.

Martinez said New Mexico State Police will assign additional officers to patrol U.S. Highway 64 between Farmington and Bloomfield and Interstate 40 between Gallup and Grants. The activity will be paid for with a $62,000 grant from the New Mexico Department of Transportation, Martinez said.

Martinez said law enforcement agencies around the state will also increase efforts to arrest repeat drunken drivers wanted on outstanding warrants for violating court orders.

State Police Chief Pete Kassetas unveiled during the press conference what he called the "compilation of idiots," a graphic depicting 10 repeat drunken drivers currently sought on warrants.

Kassetas said four of the 10 people were San Juan County residents.

"They are the ones out there breaking the law and putting law enforcement and community lives at risk," Kassetas said.

A sign featuring 10 repeat drunken driving offenders is posted on Thursday at Gov. Susana Martinez's press conference off U.S. Highway 64 between Farmington and Bloomfield.

Martinez said the state Department of Transportation will seek proposals to help citizens monitor judges and prosecutors in the state who handle drunken driving cases.

Martinez said treatment is needed as part of a criminal sentence, but in New Mexico, "your 20th DWI is treated the same as your seventh DWI."

A seventh or subsequent drunken driving conviction is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to three years in prison with a two-year mandatory minimum prison sentence.

Martinez said law enforcement agencies are also encouraged to strictly enforce the state's laws prohibiting the overserving of alcohol.

"Establishments that serve alcohol and ignore the law are the problem," Martinez said.

Gov. Susana Martinez shakes hands with law enforcement officials on Dec. 10 before a press conference about drunken driving penalties off U.S. Highway 64 between Farmington and Bloomfield.

The Farmington Police Department expected to arrest more people this year on suspicion of drunken driving than in 2014. In 2014, Farmington police officers arrested 636 people for allegedly driving while intoxicated, according to statistics provided by the department. Police department spokeswoman Georgette Allen said Thursday that the department has arrested 684 people for the same offense this year.

However, the department saw a drop in the number of arrests made over this Thanksgiving holiday weekend compared to last year. Aztec, Bloomfield and Farmington police officials said there were fewer officers patrolling the streets during the holidays because disbursement of a state grant meant to combat drunken driving was delayed.

At the press conference, Martinez denied the state Department of Transportation waited too long to approve the grant and blamed local departments for not budgeting better.

Martinez also rejected a claim by Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez that she was attempting to deflect attention from her overall record with the new law enforcement initiative.

"She likes to blame everyone but herself," Sanchez, D-Belen, told the Associated Press earlier this week. "It's called deflecting to someone else."

Martinez said she has always been dedicated to fighting drunken driving, first as the district attorney for Doña Ana County and now as governor.

"I think Sanchez is completely wrong," Martinez said.

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