A deadly car crash that killed three people on a New Mexico highway is the focus of a new lawsuit claiming a 911 dispatcher, a livestock inspector and a sheriff’s office could have done more to prevent it.
The July 2016 crash involving a cow and a semi-truck happened along Highway 54, just north of Vaughn.
Four-year-old Angela Jimenez, her 75-year old great-grandmother Ofelia Sanchez, and Angela’s 26-year-old father Guerrero Jimenez were killed in the crash.
Attorneys representing the victims in the case have filed a new wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Santa Rosa and its 911 dispatch center; a New Mexico livestock inspector and the Guadalupe County Sheriff’s Office for their alleged roles in the incident.
“Something went horribly wrong here and as a result, three people are dead,” said Jolene Youngers, attorney for the mother of Angela Jimenez.
The lawsuit claims various public safety officials failed to address a 911 call reporting the cow in the highway well before the crash.
“It’s very important for us to try to get to the bottom of this,” said Youngers.
The crash happened in the early hours of July 16, 2016, around 1:30 a.m. Youngers says Jimenez was a passenger in a car Guerrero Jimenez was driving through New Mexico. The family was driving from Colorado on the way to visit family in northern Mexico.
As the family drove south on Highway 54 toward Vaughn, Jimenez’s car struck a black angus cow in the middle of the highway. The car veered into a semi-truck and burst into flames, killing everyone inside.
Attorney says investigators determined the cow has escaped a worn state-owned fence, maintained by the New Mexico Department of Transportation.
“The New Mexico state highway department which has an affirmative duty to fence highway and keep livestock off the roads,” said Youngers.
In 2016, the relatives initially sued NMDOT for the department’s role maintaining the fence. According to court documents, relatives have settled their claim against NMDOT.
The case isn’t over though, as the latest accusations are based on discovery of a 911 call made to the Santa Rosa 911 dispatch center more than an hour before the deadly crash.
Attorneys claim around midnight, a nearby railroad worked called 911 to report seeing a live cow on the side of the Highway.
“There’s a cow on the side of the road,” said the 911 caller. “He’s roaming around.”
KRQE News 13 obtained a recording of the 911 call, where the dispatcher acknowledges that the cow was spotted outside of the fence.
“Oh shoot, that son of a *****,” the dispatcher chuckles during the call. “Okay, I’ll get ahold of the livestock inspector. He usually knows who has cattle all over, and we’ll get that cow back in the fence there.”
However, attorneys claim the 911 dispatcher never got ahold of a New Mexico Livestock Inspector. Attorneys also claim the dispatcher didn’t call the Guadalupe County Sheriff’s Office either, based on an alleged policy that deputies don’t respond to cattle calls.
The lawsuit alleges that the Guadalupe County Sheriff “implemented policies and procedures which prohibited 911 operators … from contacting the Sheriff’s Department to remove a livestock from a road within the Sheriff’s jurisdiction.”
“Something should have been done by someone to get that cow off the roadway,” said Youngers.
KRQE News 13 called the city of Santa Rosa for comment Friday night, but was told the city attorney wouldn’t be available until Monday. The Guadalupe County Sheriff’s Office didn’t return KRQE News 13’s call for comment.
KRQE News 13 also contacted NMDOT about the alleged settlement for its role in the case. A spokeswoman for the department called the issue “an ongoing legal matter” and declined to release any information about the apparent settlement.
In a civil case such as this, New Mexico state law caps monetary damages against the government at a maximum of $750,000.