Saturday marks the 25th anniversary of a tragic alcohol-related accident so horrific it made several first responders question their choice of vocation.
On the night of Nov. 24, 1987, Maria D. Ramirez, 21, had just finished her shift at the Wendy’s restaurant. A Roswell newcomer, she had just moved from Cotton City to work and attend beauty school.
“She had come … to have a better life, to help her parents,” said KC Rogers, a retired state police officer. Ramirez was his sister-in-law.
Ramirez never made it home that night. While driving, the passenger side of her car was hit by a drunk driver who was later determined to be going no less than 85 mph. The accident caused Ramirez to be ejected from her car. Her vehicle also flew. Both crashed against the wall of a building.
Afterward, Rogers said, paramedics approached him and said it had been one of the worst accidents they had responded to.
“It made them question if that was the line of work they wanted to be in,” Rogers said. Now involved with the Alternative Sentencing Programs and Educational Networks of New Mexico, Rogers shares the story of Ramirez’s death with his students with the hope of deterring them from drunk driving.
Ramirez’s family keeps her memory alive and works toward preventing drunk driving with a billboard that depicts photos of Ramirez when she was in high school. The billboard went up at the intersection of McGaffey and Main streets, above Subway, in the beginning of November — the month Ramirez died.
“(It’s) just to remind people to not drink and drive,” Rogers said. “We really think it’s important for people to understand the kind of pain (caused by drunk driving). It doesn’t go away.
“We wouldn’t want anyone to go through the pain we’re going through, yet people do all the time,” he said.
Ramirez died just four days before Thanksgiving. To take precaution against the increased number of alcohol-related crashes during the holidays, the state of New Mexico is participating in a “super blitz,” a campaign that involves the placement of an increased number of police patrol cars in strategic areas.
The super blitz began Friday and will end Jan. 6. Britt Snyder, a lieutenant with the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office, said the super blitz involves state and county law enforcement, and is made possible through a contract with the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s Traffic Safety Bureau and Safer New Mexico Now.
Intoxicated drivers can be found anywhere, Snyder said, but the blitz focuses on areas in the county where drunk drivers have historically been more common. There are also times when drunk drivers are likelier to be found, on Fridays and Saturdays, from 8 p.m. to midnight.
If and when someone is found to be driving under the influence, their level of impairment is determined and their vehicle is towed. The person typically blows into a Breathalyzer to determine breath alcohol concentration. A result of .08 or above is considered driving under the influence in New Mexico, Snyder said.
The first three offenses of the sort are considered misdemeanors. A fourth DWI offense is a felony, which involves 18 months in prison.
Snyder, who has been with the Sheriff’s Office for 23 years, knows the consequences of DWI all too well. In 1991, he lost his mother in a DWI crash just west of Socorro.
“My mother did not drink and did not deserve to die like that,” Snyder said. He noted that DWI fatalities have gone down considerably over the years, but there is still much to be done.
Diane Taylor, a prevention specialist with the Chaves County DWI Program, works steadily to bring the drunk driving numbers down to zero. Her work involves preventing DWI through youth-targeted programs that reach children as early as elementary school to teach them about the dangers of driving while intoxicated.
“It’s about choices,” said Taylor. “Every tragedy [is] preventable.” She said DWI could be avoided with a simple phone call or text message asking someone for a ride. Having a designated driver may also prevent it.
“We all are affected by DWI,” she continued. “We all have somebody close to us who has lost their life. … It’s so preventable. … We’re trying to change attitudes, change behavior.”