ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Following a hit and run crash that killed a seven-year old Albuquerque boy, Albuquerque Police have unveiled a plan to crack down on off-highway vehicles (OHV) riding on city streets and in restricted areas. Calling it an ongoing, zero-tolerance operation, APD says several of its specialized units, including air support are partnering with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to help stop, cite and tow any OHVs caught riding on city and county streets around Albuquerque.
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“(APD’s Traffic Division will) attack this full force, zero-tolerance,” said Nicholas Wheeler, APD’s Acting Commander overseeing the Motors Units. “If you are caught operating one of these vehicles on a city street or a state highway in the city of Albuquerque, you will be cited, your vehicle will be towed, and if you choose to flee … we will catch you and you will go to jail.”
The announcement comes just over a week after a father and son were hit by an OHV at the intersection of Central and Tingley on Sunday, December 12. APD says the victims, Pronoy Bhattacharya, 7, and his father were leaving the River of Lights event, crossing Central Avenue when they were struck by an OHV. Investigators say the pedestrian crossing signal was illuminated when the father and son were hit, meaning the victims had the right of way to cross the street at the time of the crash.
The man accused of causing the crash and fleeing the scene, 27-year old Sergio Almanza is facing charges including homicide by vehicle, leaving the scene of a crash, and tampering with evidence. As of Monday, Almanza has not been arrested and is still considered a fugitive. APD says he is now being sought by the U.S. Marshals Service.
The department acknowledges Monday there is a growing problem with OHVs riding on city streets in Albuquerque, saying they’ve been frequently spotted riding in groups. Acting Commander Wheeler says OHVs have more commonly been seen going into the downtown area, driving on sidewalks, making pedestrians move out of the way.
“We are going to tackle this,” Wheeler said. “I’ve instructed my officers, there (are) no warnings, it is zero tolerance for this type of behavior.”
APD said it has seen more OHVs on city streets in the southwest area command, listing Bridge and Unser as two areas the practice is more common. “We’ve seen them traveling in packs of 50 or more down I-40, they’ve made it into the downtown corridor, and they’ll occupy the parking lots there are down there.”
While New Mexico state law permits for counties and cities to create ordinances allowing OHVs to use city or county streets, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish says neither Albuquerque or Bernalillo County have passed ordinances allowing for OHVs on paved, public roadways. Violators can be hit with a $200 fine per citation.
APD has opened 82 different investigations for fatal traffic crashes in city limits in 2021, so far. 25 of those cases are said to be related to speed. When asked Monday how the department would respond to criticism that it should have been doing more before the crash that killed Pronoy Bhattacharya, APD acknowledged resource challenges but said it was not an excuse.
“We’ve added this additional component of Open Space, Air Support and New Mexico Game and Fish to address that unique part, that these vehicles can operate where a typical police car cannot,” APD Deputy Chief Mike Smathers said. “Our hope is with those additional resources, we will be able to follow them, keep them in sight, and then get the identity that we need.”
New Mexico Game and Fish is also providing several new signs that will be posted around illegal OHV hot spots.