TAOS, N.M. (KRQE) – The Taos community is mourning the loss of a 16-year-old high school girl who was killed in a car crash that’s earned national attention.
Maria Elena Cruz has been identified as the teen victim in a crash that killed two Wednesday night on Highway 522, north of Taos.
Friday, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe made it clear that investigators believe Harris likely caused the crash. Hogrefe also said people need to pay more attention to the other side of the tragedy: the innocent girl who lost her life.
A Taos High School student, Cruz was a junior honor student and a sister who also worked with her uncle at a Taos restaurant called the Guadalajara Grill. Her family told KRQE News 13 Friday the teen had a bright future.
“We don’t want her name to be forgotten, because she had so much of her life ahead.” Cruz’s uncle Pedro Soliz said. “She was a very good student and wanted to study and for people to take her away, that’s not right.”
At a benefit dinner Friday night, Cruz’s friends wore purple to remember their friend.
“She always had a big heart, she was so kind, and caring,” said
Taos County Sheriff’s investigators say Cruz was heading home from work Wednesday night, going northbound on Highway 522. Investigators believe Kylie Rae Harris’ vehicle clipped a car, then veered into oncoming traffic in front of Cruz’s car. Both Cruz and Harris died on scene.
Cruz’s father is a volunteer deputy fire chief for San Cristobal Fire. The night of the crash, Cruz’s father responded to the crash scene, unaware that his daughter was involved.
“He’s also an EMT, so he’s no stranger to going out on calls both medical, crashes and other things, but very traumatic for him to not know but to respond anyway and then find it was his family member,” Sheriff Hogrefe said.
Dozens of community members hosted a benefit dinner at the San Cristobal Community Center Friday night to raise money for the funeral costs.
“They just want the community to remember their daughter, Maria Elena, as kind loving and caring, wonderful daughter, wonderful sister, and just kind-hearted soul,” said Taos County Fire Chief Mike Cordova.
Friends say the Taos community has lost someone special in Cruz’s death.
“She would always be there for other people if they’re like sad or anything, she was just good in every possible way,” said Alexandra Salazar, a friend of Cruz’s.
The Taos County Sheriff says investigators believe Harris was speeding and may have been drinking, but they’re waiting on results from toxicology tests to make a final determination.
Harris has a history of DWI. She was arrested for drunk driving in the Dallas area back in 2017. Her breath alcohol level was double the legal limit. She just had her ignition interlock ordered after that case removed last year.