GALLUP, N.M. (KRQE) – At least 15 people are recovering from injuries after a SUV drove through a crowded parade in Gallup Thursday night. Hundreds of people were gathered on the city streets to celebrate the Intertribal Ceremonial Parade when New Mexico State Police say a 33-year-old driver plowed through the parade route closed to through traffic.
Jeff Kenn Irving of Gallup is facing 21 charges in the case, including aggravated DWI, multiple counts of leaving the scene of a crash, driving with a revoked license, and more. According to a criminal complaint, Irving registered a 0.24 on an alcohol breath test, three times the state’s legal limit of 0.08.
Witnesses say just before 8 p.m., a beige or tan SUV drove through the parade route right towards performers and children who were in the middle of the street. Multiple witness videos show people running from the SUV in a chaotic scene, leaving chairs and other belongings behind.
In a news release from the City of Gallup, City Manager Maryann Ustick said before the crash, Gallup Police officers were “notified that several people were consuming alcohol in a vehicle” parked along the parade route. According to Ustick’s statement, “contact was made, the driver put the vehicle in drive and proceeded to strike police officers, pedestrians, vehicles and a business before the vehicle back into a New Mexico State Police unit,” allowing for police to take Irving into custody.
According to court documents, Irving told police he was behind the wheel of a 1999 Chevy Tahoe, watching the parade when he “left” the event, traveling east with his two brothers inside the vehicle. Police say Irving initially said he did not have any alcoholic drinks prior to the crash. He later admitted to police he had been drinking, stating he had “two cans about two to three hours” prior to the crash. He then subsequently told police he drank three and a half hours prior to the crash, saying he had “a couple beers.”
A criminal complaint indicates a New Mexico State Police officer gave Irving several field sobriety tests after the crash. Police say Irving had trouble balancing and staying in position. Police say Irving also told them he has a prosthetic left eye.
After field sobriety tests, Irving was placed under arrest, where police gave him a breathalyzer test, then took him to the hospital. Police drew his blood, and cleared him of injuries. He has since been booked in the McKinley County jail.
Inside the SUV Irving said he was driving, investigators say they found more than one “open container,” but didn’t state what was in the containers. Police also found Irving has one prior DWI conviction.
President of the Navajo Nation, Jonathan Nez, was at the parade. He says that he and members of his party could have been hit had they not reacted quickly. “We were in the path of the vehicle. Thank God, the folks that were around me, our team members or council delegates. Were not struck by the vehicle,” said Nez in a statement shortly after the incident.
In a press conference Friday morning, Gallup Mayor Louis Bonaguidi said he too was one of the hundreds of people in the crowd. “It was very traumatic last night. I was in front of the El Morro Theatre when Mr. Nez and his entourage were coming through; then we heard these voices screaming at us to get out of the way,” Bonaguidi said.
The parade was the kickoff event of the 100th Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial Celebration and Melissa Sanchez, executive director for the Intertribal Ceremonial office, says the rest of the events will continue as planned. “[The Ceremonial] will move forward in its schedule with great hope and the coming together of many Native American and Indigenous people from throughout the world,” Sanchez said. “Their songs and dances will provide healing.”
The Gallup Police Department says two of its police officers were among the 15 injured in the crash. Minimal information has been released about the severity of the injuries, however, NMSP says at least one person suffered what they consider “great bodily harm,” while 14 others have what are considered “personal injuries not resulting in great bodily harm.”
This is a developing story. KRQE News 13 will provide updates as they become available.