LAS VEGAS, N.M. (KRQE) - After a drunken driver killed five members of a Las Vegas, N.M., family in 2006, the lone survivor of the accident and her grandparents found a new purpose in trying to spur the state Legislature to pass stronger anti-DWI laws.
But with nothing to show for those efforts after 6 1/2 years, the patriarch of the family said they feel victimized all over again.
"The liquor lobbyists are very powerful," said Ray Collins, whose daughter, Renee, three granddaughters and son-in-law died in the crash. "And they control the legislation that's going to pass and not pass."
And while liquor industry lobbyists KRQE News 13 spoke to argued that raising taxes or limiting sales only hurt local businesses and don't target the root problem of alcohol addiction, that provides little comfort to the family.
Dana Papst, who was drunk at the time of the crash and driving the wrong way on Interstate 25 near Santa Fe, struck the Gonzales family's minivan head-on Nov. 11, 2006. Paul and Renee Gonzales died, as well as their daughters, Alisha, 17, Jacquelynn, 11, and Selena, 10. Arissa Garcia, then 15, and the family dog were the only survivors.
"(Arissa) witnessed the whole thing," Collins said. "She was conscious. She saw her mother and her older sister take her last breath."
Papst, who had been cited multiple times previously for drunk driving, died of injuries suffered in the crash.
Collins and his wife, Cathy, became parents again after the crash and raised Arissa, which was difficult at times, he said.
"She kept busy," Ray Collins said. "She was an athlete. She had to be busy all the time. She was very bitter, very angry all the time."
Arissa also felt guilty for surviving the crash, he added
"She wondered why they didn't take her, too," Collins said.
But lobbying the state Legislature to strengthen New Mexico's laws against drunk driving gave Arissa purpose.
Former state Rep. Rick Vigil sponsored many of those bills, including one that would have prohibited sales of alcohol at gas stations, another that would have banned new liquor licenses near interstates and another that would have raised excise taxes on alcohol sales.
"It became personal to me because I knew the family," Vigil said.
But year after year, members of the Collins-Gonzales family stood by and watched the bills go nowhere.
Asked why the bills didn't pass, Vigil said. "You know, it's the committee process."
Arissa initially told News 13 she would sit down for an interview, but changed her mind because the memories of the crash, as well as her efforts to combat drunk driving, were too painful, her grandfather said.
"She said, ‘I don't think I can do it, Poppo,' " Collins said.
Arissa, now 22, still lives in Las Vegas and is studying at New Mexico Highlands University to be a teacher. She recently gave birth to a son, Evan, and is engaged to be married.
"She's focusing on her son and her fiancé," Collins said.
For Collins and his wife, life is bittersweet. While they lost a child, a son-in-law and three granddaughters, they've gained four new grandsons in recent years – one from Arissa and three from their son.
"I tell everybody how God does things, you know," he said. "He takes and he gives."
And he also takes comfort in believing that he'll see his daughter and granddaughters again some day.
"Eventually, we'll be with them," Collins said.
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