Updated: Tuesday, 14 Apr 2009, 12:03 AM MDT
Published : Monday, 13 Apr 2009, 11:09 PM MDT
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - A fugitive defendant in a fatal drunken-driving case planted a fake obituary in an attempt to escape trial, according to attorneys, court records and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Byron Shane Carpenter, 30, was arrested Wednesday after an anonymous tip to MADD offices in Albuquerque.
“We were quite surprised when we found out that death notification had been filed,” MADD executive director Lora Lee Ortiz told KRQE News 13. “We received the tip last week and within a day and a half he was in custody.”
Carpenter’s arrest came one month after his obituary appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.
Weeks after the obituary was published, Carpenter’s wife contacted his attorney, Sandy Barnhart y Chavez, saying he was dead.
“I received a frantic and crying phone call from his wife saying that Byron had died in a car crash in southern New Mexico,” Barnhart y Chavez said.
Carpenter faces charges of homicide by vehicle, great bodily injury by vehicle and aggravated driving while intoxicated from a 2006 crash in Edgewood that killed a woman and severely injured her elderly stepfather.
Barnhart y Chavez filed a notice in the case April 2, notifying the court she had received information Carpenter had died. But she said errors in the obituary made her suspicious.
“I sent off to vital records a request to get an official death certificate,” the defense attorney said. “But right about then was when we found out he was in jail in Lincoln County.”
It’s unclear how long Carpenter’s scheme would have worked.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office was suspicious, too.
“We did some research,” district attorney spokesperson Pat Davis said. “We were unable to find a death certificate with the Office of the Medical Examiner.
"We were unable to find anything from vital statistics. So we asked the judge to continue the warrant until somebody could verify one way or the other that he was not here or that he could be found.”
Crash survivor Russell Kealen, 93, told News 13 he knows very little about Carpenter.
“I don’t know beans from apple butter about him,” Kealen said. “All I was told was that he was drunk.”
Kealen is still recovering from injuries to both of his legs. He was notified this week of Carpenter’s arrest.
U.S. marshals reported finding Carpenter hiding under a pile of rocks outside Capitan.
Barnhart y Chavez said she does not want to represent Carpenter anymore.
“I’ve been an attorney 30 years, and I’ve never had a client try to fake their death before," she said. "I’m flabbergasted, and I no longer want to be his attorney.”